Lead characters in Hollywood films or Netflix Original programs are supposed to enhance the audience’s viewing experience by “removing us from our environment and placing us within the film.” Lead characters can be cops, doctors, fathers, mothers, super heroes and so much more. Most people are accustom to seeing certain people play lead roles. The only issue with the majority of shows and films are the lead characters are played by people from a Caucasian background. Breaking away from the mold, Netflix Original shows such as Dear White People, On My Block and Luke Cage place lead characters from different races in order to bring a fresh face to television.
All three Netflix shows showcase racial identity from African American backgrounds and Latino/a backgrounds. Dear White People has a lead character of a young woman in college who runs a radio show at her college. The purpose of the radio show is to inform her listens about the racial remarks of the white students actions towards African Americans. The show focuses in on how white students at the school performed on “blackface” for Halloween costumes during a party, which were filmed and sent around the school. African American students at the school gather together in order to plan a protest against these racial allegations. The main character ends up falling in love with a white male, which her friends do not approve of the bi-racial relationship. The show On My Block follows a group of friends transitioning from middle school to high school. The lead character and his friends are Latino/a, living in a ghetto area, where Hispanic gangs rule the streets. The characters are not only physically changing from hormones, but are also changing mentally, by trying to get an education in order to live a life outside of the ghetto. Luke Cage produced my Marvell, uses Mike Colter an African American who plays Luke Cage. Colter’s character is unlike most super hero productions that use a white male as the main lead, this series uses a colored person.
The shows challenge traditional stereotypes such as growing up in low income, not having a parental guild and living a day-to-day struggle. By placing characters from different cultural background, audiences get to see the lives of others beside white people. For example some audiences, mainly white audiences aren’t happy about having an African American as the main lead. In an article called “Luke Cage” and the racial empathy gap: “why do they talk about being black all the time?,” by Nico Lang, claims “While white audience members are accustomed to their stories and histories represented on screen, they become less comfortable when others are handed the mic. This concept is often known as the “racial empathy gap.””
Between the three shows, the most compelling characters I enjoyed was from On My Block. The show really focused in on the everyday challenges of transitioning into adulthood, figuring out who your friends are, going against family values and struggling to fit in a non-Caucasian environment. The problems the characters encounter such as going against family values or beliefs and walking down the streets to hear gunshots. The group of friends knows they need to help each other stay focused on school to gain an education so they can try someday to leave the ghetto and beat drugs. I was personally able to connect to the characters in Dear White People, because like African Americans, being gay, I can’t just turn off who I am from the outside. We walk down the street and can get criticism from people just because of who we are. Even though I don’t know what it is like to be of color, I do know the struggle of people judging us just the way we look, or talk, or use of body language.
Nico Lang, “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk about Being Black All the Time?’” Salon (October 5, 2016): https://www.salon.com/2016/10/05/luke-cage-and- the-racial-empathy-gap-why-do-they-talk-about-being-black-all-the-time/