Times are changing for the better in a lot of ways. As modern thinking develops and flourishes, a lot of steps have been taken towards removing the inequality that has undeniably permeated western society for many generations. Part of the process of lessening the divide between cultures includes introducing people to different perspectives on racial identity. Luckily, Netflix, among other platforms, has recently taken great strides to offer diverse programming that provides these perspectives in entertaining ways. Dear White People, On My Block, and Luke Cage all address issues of racial identity and tension in different ways and often challenge preconceived notions the audience may have about the characters and the lives they lead.
Luke Cage present’s it’s story from the perspective of a man with many powerful positive qualities. The titular character is noble, intelligent, and pensive, fighting crime while withholding many of the bombastic qualities superheroes tend to have. This makes his character come across as wise and easy to respect while also still maintaining a heroic sense of justice that he is not afraid to back up with force. But even though his character contains so many positive traits, he still has to put up with negative opinions and uncalled for discrimination in his quest to fight crime and corruption. In Luke Cage’s backstory, he was a simple city cop before being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. With all of the recent news stories regarding unjust racial profiling from law enforcement, it becomes easy to see how the law could turn against the honest Cage so bluntly, and how this racial perspective factors in to his complex character. In other words, his character becomes much more sympathetic and understandable once you take into account his racial identity and how it has affected his life, for better or worse.
In contrast to the superhero action presented by Luke Cage, On My Block takes a more intimate look at the lives of four kids from different backgrounds in a coming-of-age sort of storytelling way. In the first episode of the show, it becomes clear that all four of the main characters are facing their own unique challenges regarding their race, class, and/or background. Cesar, for example, finds himself being dragged into a gang due to his family history despite the fact that wants nothing to due with it. The feeling of being trapped and stuck within a situation that you have no control over I imagine feels very familiar to anyone dealing with their own racial injustices, and the show does a great job of making sure his story is presented sympathetically. Another character, Jamal, seems to be struggling with similar issues regarding the differences between himself and his father, and I look forward to watching more of the show and seeing where that story arc goes. Overall, On My Block does a great job of addressing the frustration many people, especially teenagers, feel regarding the injustices they face due to factors they have no control over.
Finally we have Dear White People, which takes a much more direct approach in its view on racial relationships and perspective. Dear White People addresses the concept of modern racism very shamelessly, starring a group of black students attending a college made up of mostly white ones. In the first episode, a girl named Sam goes up against a ‘blackface’ party that has begun to take root within her college campus. The premise and its execution are definitely powerful and bring up issues that I believe a lot of people would often prefer to ignore, and I found its direct, blunt approach to be refreshing in a lot of ways. However, there are drawbacks to this way of confronting issues. In its attempt to be unapologetically clear about racial injustice, there are times when the show begins to display and even promote an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality between white people and minorities. Even the title of the show evokes a focus on separation, and while I can see why they chose such an evocative name, challenging racial issues by directly calling out certain groups can lead to members of those groups closing their minds and hearts entirely. They do this because they feel personally blamed and attacked, and no matter where the fault actually lies, tact must be utilized to ensure that real communication can occur.