In 2014’s original Dear White People film, there is one reprehensible Blackface party. In 2017’s Dear White People Netflix adaptation, there’s one reprehensible Blackface party and one party that will break your heart. The latter college bash arrives in “Chapter V,” which shows how a simple disagreement can turn into a deadly police incident for a young Black man. I watched the press screener for the episode over a week ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
“Chapter V,” directed by Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins, begins with the residents of Black residence hall Armstrong-Parker enjoying an easygoing Saturday at fictional Ivy League jewel Winchester University. While Reggie (Marque Richardson) wants to continue protesting the series-starting Blackface party, his friend Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) reminds him, “Sometimes being carefree and Black is an act of revolution.” So, Reggie, Joelle, and friends spend their day going to tailgates, watching bad movies, and, finally, going to a party.
Reggie has the best time at the party until things take a turn when Future’s “Trap Nigga” starts blaring through the speakers. Reggie understandably asks the white student throwing the bash, Addison (Nolan Gerard Funk), not to say the portion of the song that’s a slur. Addison won’t let such a request abide, declaring he’s not a racist, isn’t a redneck, and thinks it’s weird he has to censor himself. “Can nobody just have fun any more?” he asks, following that up with, “Right back to slavery. It always comes back to slavery.”
Those two tone-deaf comments result in a party-wide argument and Reggie is shoved into Addison, leading the two guys into a “little tiff.” That’s when the police arrive, immediately assuming Reggie is the source of the violence. “I’m gonna need to see your ID,” one officer says. When Reggie responds by saying, “Fuck these pigs, man,” the cop immediately pulls out a loaded gun and points it at the unarmed Black man. His finger is already on the trigger. “Did I stutter? Show me some ID!” the officer yells, despite the fact both white and Black students have confirmed Reggie’s a harmless student.
In that moment it’s clear Reggie could die from making one wrong move. Reggie also knows this as he narrates every movement to keep the officer from shooting him. All three of the Black female leads — Joelle, Sam (Logan Browning), and Coco (Antoinette Robertson) — are crying. It’s all disturbingly realistic and heartbreaking. Although Reggie makes it out of the party alive, the final shot of "Chapter V" is of the young man, crumpled and crying behind his dorm room door.
The reason this episode is so haunting is because of how easily things escalated and how easily that police officer could’ve ended Reggie’s life. The young man wasn’t showing any signs he was dangerous; he simply wanted to know why he, out of every person at a party, needed to fork over his ID to law enforcement. That simple question literally could have cost him his life. The fact this isn’t a Reggie-specific issue, but an issue for Black people everywhere, comes at the season 1 finale, “Chapter X,” when golden boy Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) is arrested for destroying school property.
At first, the student body president fights back, yelling, “Get off of me.” Again, another member of school security goes for his gun to take care of a situation with a young Black man. Troy’s Winchester administrator father runs out to stop the police from murdering his son, shouting with tears in his eyes, “Don’t shoot! That’s my son.” The moment is a direct response to Dean Fairbanks’s earlier comment that what happened to Reggie could never happen to Troy, since, as he says, “I raised him.”
Yet, here we are, because how you're raised has nothing to do with these kinds of terrifying, life or death moments. All that matters is how police officers (of which, there are many, many, many wonderful ones) see you. Hopefully Dear White People helps society take one more step in the right direction here.