Transcript for 'Dear White People': Inside the series taking on what it means to be black in America
Reporter: Race has always been a thread in the social fabric of America. Shocking video. The latest example of -- Recently sparking a lot of conversation -- Very painful issue of race in America -- White student called police on a black graduate student -- Video surfaced -- Members using a racist chant -- I don't like it -- Video of a woman being pberated. Reporter: Today technology has given voice to the voiceless. Killer, murderer because we are black! Reporter: Caught on camera, no doubt. But the national conversations we have about race too often end when the cameras stop. You will not replace us! How did we get here? Is this the America we've always been in? Or is this a new America? Reporter: Justin Simeon is exploing that conversation. Action! Reporter: One that shines light on black identity through the lens of a Netflix series he created called "Dear white people." The series is set on a predominantly white ivy league college campus. How did we get here? 200 years of -- Slavery, sorry I asked. Reporter: Provocative themes like racial bias in law enforcement. I'm going to need to see your I.D. Why to you need to see my I.D.? Son, I said I.D. I'm not your son. Reporter: Sexual orientation. White privilege. And interracial relationships. Don't fall in love with your oppressive. It's called "Dear white people," but it's really about being black. It's really about the fact that blackness sometimes feels like a constant response to white people, like you're always having to explain yourself. Look at my African-American over here. Look at him. One of the big things that changed between season 1 and 2 is the election of Donald Trump. How has that impacted the conversation? I think for me it's made the series a bit more urgent. Not because these issues are brand-new to us. I think now folks are urgently trying to figure out, what happened? Black folks are like, we've been bringing this up for some time. Now that you're all ears, let's talk about it. Reporter: Sam white, played by Logan browning, is one of the show's main characters. What are you? Reporter: Part provocateur, she wields her influence through her on-campus radio show. Dear white people, here's a little tip. When you ask someone who looks ethnically different, what are you? The answer is usually, a person about to slap the Out of you. At the surface, she's a biracial woman who wants to give voice to the people on campus who aren't heard as much. Reporter: Speaking her truth is a path towards progress as she sees it. Oh, me? I was just pretty enough. Reporter: At first the character cocoa Conners, played by Antoinette Robinson, seems to be at odds. People take one look at my skin and they assume that I'm poor or uneducated or wretched. So yeah I tone it down. Make myself more palatable. Join a sorority. What's so wrong with that? Everything. Cocoa believes infiltrating the system is the best way to go about getting change, not raging against the machine but finding a way to find success within a world of whiteness. Admit the same number of them and the acceptance rate goes down and that's something to brag about. And I do enjoy bragging. She's very much aware of the world and how it perceives women of color. Nobody's sort of presented to you in just one way. Reporter: At times the show holding a mirror that exposes the divides and complexities that exist within the black community. You get away with murder because you look more like them than I do. That's your light-skinned privilege. Reporter: Sam's character becomes more complicated when we learn she's dating her white teaching assistant Gabe Mitchell. I want to be more than a hot lay for you. He'll never understand what it's like to be in her shoes but he really wants to understand. And I think Sam sees that in him. And knows that it's genuine. Oh, , Sam, if I knew you liked them light I would have hollered. Sam's character helps me understand the relationships she has with a white boyfriend and how it is viewed by some as kind of a shot at her blackness, right? Yeah, this is so common. Somebody who is prominent in the black community, outspoken as an activist, you find out they have a white wife or husband. Aahhh! You know what I mean? Were you watching me sleep? Reporter: Their relationship explores the delicate dance that can be interracial dating. The construct of race really just gets in between us being human beings and communicating with each other. Who are you to tell me what I should do? If you were really interested in reaching people, maybe you'd let them in. They get to a point where they become really, truly broken down, honest, and vulnerable with each other. You wouldn't hide behind this veiled anger. I didn't hear a question there. What I heard was a reprimand. About how I should process my experience. They're also having a conversation about whiteness and blackness in general. I'm black. In this society, that is what I am, period. The conversation between Sam and Gabe is almost like the conversation I feel like we all want to have, but we're on Twitter or Facebook. Don't just run away from the conversation because you don't like where it's going. This is what the conversation could be if we stay in the room together long enough to hear each other. It's hard not to learn a little bit about yourself when you're having these kinds of conversations. Yeah, absolutely, yeah. It really punches you in the face. Are you a student here? Reporter: Art imitating life. We've had a complaint, are you a student here? Reporter: A recurring theme on the show. Are you a sale student? Of course, how else would I get in here? Reporter: Disturbing images of encounters between black people and the police. I go to uva! Why do you need to see my I.D.? Son, I said I.D. I'm not your son. Reporter: Season 1, a campus security officer drawing a gun on Reggie, a black student, after the cops were called to a party. Show me some I.D.! Black comes at you real fast sometimes. Reggie is literally having a near-death experience over being at a party and doing the same things that everybody else is doing. Every time I see a video of a kid that looks just like me, which is in the wrong place at the wrong time being brutally murdered or taken into custody, that is traumatic. That's traumatic to me. It just felt like we had a responsibility to speak to that. Unpack that, the intensity of that moment. It's still with me, actually. Because when I read the script, you know -- it didn't hit me until like hours later. And I just cried. Are you okay? Reporter: Reggie's narrative explores the collateral damage of that moment and how trauma often lingers long after the headlines disappear. Even with the happy ending of Reggie not dying that night, still comes with a lot of consequences. Comes with a lot of wounds. I'm having panic attacks. It's not like the dude shot me -- No, don't do that, no. The worst thing we can do is normalize this stuff. Most television shows, when something like that happens, we're done. We might reference it a couple times in the dialogue, but we're done. For black folks, we're experiencing PTSD. Reporter: Justin makes that a point by revisiting Reggie's pain throughout the series. Why are you here? So I won't be labeled the angry black man. I think part of why mental health is a taboo in the black community is because we're all kind of in survival mode, we've been in survival mode for generations now. We don't realize that we're not fine. You cannot let those few seconds become your whole life! Reporter: Using the pen to push for progress, the team behind "Dear white people" believe that lifting up a truth, a shared experience, can lead to a more empathetic society. Something Justin said to me before we even started filming the show is that playing this character might change somebody's life, or save somebody's life. I'm grateful that we're on a show that can allow kids, or whoever, to really have a place to kind of explore different views or feel like they can attach to a character or feel like they can look up to a character. I feel like a lot of our characters are very aspirational. The fact that I have the opportunity to say something and tell people what I'm going through is not lost on me. I feel like I have to say something in my work. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm Zachary kiesch in los Angeles. Up next here, our intrepid
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