At a time when racial awareness is something that needs to be increased, Ava DuVernay, the leading director in social justice dramas, has been enlisted by Netflix to dramatise yet another important story: the early years of the prolific former American footballer-turned-civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick.
DuVernay is renowned for her critically acclaimed When They See Us, the heart-wrenching dramatisation of the Central Park Five’s harrowing conviction. But Colin In Black & White takes on a somewhat lighter tone. This limited series, which tells Kaepernick’s coming-of-age story at high school as the Black adopted child of a white family, draws clear comparisons with Chris Rock’s autobiographical sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, particuarly in terms of its narrative style.
In Everybody Hates Chris, however, you don’t see Rock appearing in contextual cutaways to elaborate on African-American history and systemic racism like Kaepernick does here. While there are some compelling segments – such as the parallel Kaepernick draws between his journey and that of the semi-pro baseball player-turned-artist Romare Bearden, who refused to sign a major-league contract in the 1930s because they wanted him to identify as white – it’s debatable whether these moments in Colin in Black & White always work or come across as preachy. These nuggets of African-American history shift the focus of the series from being a purely autobiographical sitcom to one which has a clear purpose of educating its audience on race, but such intentions don’t prevent the series from sometimes feeling flat.
The best part of the series are the actors who play the high school versions of Kaepernick (Jaden Michael) and his best friend Jake (Mace Coronel), with the duo displaying amazing on-screen chemistry. This is particularly true in the ‘Crystal’ episode where, as Kaepernick’s burgeoning baseball career starts to weigh heavy, Jake is able to talk some sense into the rising star. In a series where racial tension is otherwise widely prevalent, none exists between the two friends: there’s a sincerity between them that reminds us all of our beloved childhood friends who got us through the hardship of adolescence.
Colin in Black & White concludes with the highly emotional ‘Dear Colin’, which pushes forward the message of “trusting [our] power”. The present-day Kaepernick then reads aloud an inspiring letter that he’s written to his younger self, which really ties the whole series together as a story of willpower persevering above all else.
No-one believed Kaepernick would become a successful NFL quarterback, whether because he was better at baseball during high school or due to his race. Yet, by staying true to his heart, he ultimately prevailed. A heart-warming watch, Colin In Black & White is a compelling depiction of the trials and tribulations which eventually led to Kaepernick getting his shot at the University of Nevada with a football scholarship – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Colin In Black and White is set for release on October 29 on Netflix