In the first season of Justin Simien’s Netflix original show Dear White People, the students of Armstrong-Parker House were hooked on “Defamation,” a parody of Shonda Rhimes’ show Scandal.
The parody first shows up with a scene between Waithe’s character and a woman she is supposedly mad at, though her describing in detail what she would do to her. “I will drink your bathwater and eat strawberries off the small your back!” Oh, by the way P. Ninny is definitely NOT a lesbian.
In that same scene, as the camera pans out, we get to see who is watching the show: the white students of the newly integrated Winchester Hall dorm. From season 1, we know that Winchester was the heart of African-American life and community on campus, but white students were integrated due to one of the dorms being burned down.
The parody of Scandal was different in the sense that the black students watched it together and laughed together in the ridiculousness of it. But, with this new show and new stereotypically black character of P. Ninny, it makes one wonder if their new white dorm mates are laughing with them or at them.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Simien explained, “One of the weird quirks about being black is that we have our little problematic faves that we love to watch, and suddenly, when we hear white people laughing at different things than we’re laughing at, and watching it, it suddenly makes us go, ‘Wait a minute, I feel a little uncomfortable.’”
The parody in the season doesn’t end with Empire. The character P. Ninny ends up on “Dereca: Set Me Straight,” a spoof of Iyanla Vanzant's therapy show Iyanla: Fix My Life.
These Black characters get a chance to see how their white peers react to the show and in turn, react to them. Dear White People narrows in this balance between racial issues that are super serious, and the reaction to them that's sometimes not.
“I’m obsessed with these shows, and shade is my love language,” Simian told Vanity Fair.
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