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It's time for a real wake-up call.
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A Netflix original adaptation of the 2014 film, this online television series follows the same basic plot, with Logan Browning as Sam White and DeRon Horton as Lionel. Giancarlo Esposito provides narration at the beginning of each episode. The series starts with the Blackface party, however, then proceeds from there.


Tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Taking advantage of the shift from a feature length film to a ten episode series, many of the characters from the original film get increased focus and at least one spotlight episode. Notable examples are Coco, whose backstory growing up in Chicago gets expanded upon, and Reggie, who gets his own character arc, as opposed to the film version who was little more than Sam's Malcolm Xerox boyfriend.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Kurt in the film was a Jerkass who frequently expressed racist and homophobic statements with pride. In the series version, while still a huge dick and the originator behind the blackface party, his overt racism and and homophobia is absent and is just as horrified as everyone else by the campus police pulling a gun on Reggie at the party. He also tries to reach out to Sam to work together on a statement against the incident and in the Season 1 finale, delivers an Armor-Piercing Question to her about the effectiveness of her outrage-driven tactics. In Season 2, he's come around to understanding what the black students have gone through.
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  • Adaptational Villainy: In the film, Troy's father, though a bit of a Control Freak in making sure his son cultivates a respectable image while ignoring what Troy actually wants, was a Reasonable Authority Figure where the students were concerned and sympathetic to Sam's insecurity about her identity. Here, he's a Dean Bitterman who's much more antagonistic to Sam and more concerned about appeasing wealthy donors than listening to the students.
  • All Gays Are Promiscuous: From the party Lionel and Troy attend, this seems to be the case at Winchester except for Lionel. Wesley also seems to be an exception until the Season 2 finale, when he says he’s against monogamy.
  • Arc Words: For Season 2- “Watch closely."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Kurt asks Sam in the Season 1 finale how much has she really improved things at Winchester. Already exhausted by her breakup with Gabe and estrangement from Reggie, Sam experiences a minor Heroic BSoD.
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  • Author Tract: When Reggie, Joelle, Lionel, and their friends rant on Django Unchained and how it portrays black people in stereotypical ways it more or less echoes Justin Simien's own public statements on the film, especially since the camera is angled in such a way so it appears they're talking directly to the viewer.
  • Bi the Way: Professor Nieka Hobbs turns out to be bisexual. She has both a female fiancee and Troy, her secret boyfriend.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Season 1. Lionel becomes a hero once again for exposing the Hancocks and standing up to Silvio (which earns him a well-planted kiss after the latter is turned on by the former developing a backbone), and Joelle and Reggie eventually becomes a thing, but Troy is arrested after destroying the town hall door in upset over the revelation that he was indeed a puppet to the Hancocks via his father's perfectionistic upbringing and nearly loses his life while resisting before Dean Fairbanks intervenes. Gabe ends his relationship with Sam, who was willing to make things right, but the latter rekindles her friendship with Coco as they bond over Defamation. Kelsey experiences her first genuine encounter with racism as Sorbet has been dognapped, only being left with a note, "Black girl, white dog, not on my watch", and is met with mass dismissal from the other black students.
  • Blackface: Just as in the film, a party where white students dress up as black people occurs, and sparks the plot.
  • Bottle Episode: Episode 8 of Season 2 is just Sam and Gabe in the radio booth hashing out their broken relationship via a documentary interview.
  • Break Them by Talking: Sam comes ready with a speech to tell off Rikki Carter, but Rikki completely disarms her by telling Sam that her radio “character” is great and her morals only matter as an attention-grabbing and moneymaking device. Sam is left speechless and says afterwards that she may be done with “Dear White People.”
  • Brick Joke: Clifton is constantly heating up Hot Pockets. In the Season 2 finale, it’s revealed that Clifton caused the fire of Davis dorm when microwaving a Hot Pocket.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Lionel is devastated when he learns Silvio is @AltIvyW and even tells him, “You were my mentor.”
    • Sam is deeply disappointed when she meets with Cynthia Fray, her idol, who is rude and dismissive.
    • Reggie is devastated when Moses admits he did have sex with Muffy (though claiming it was consensual).
  • But Not Too Black: Invoked by the narrator (Giancarlo Esposito), who states that he was selected for the role due to his being ethnic enough while still being nonthreatening. Coco also complains of being thought poorly about by many black guys due to having dark skin, and claims Sam has "light skinned privilege" because she's mixed race. Sam retorts that no one calls Coco "half breed" or "Zebra".
  • But Not Too White: A lot of black people dislike Sam because she is mixed race, judging by her comments about being called things like "half breed" or "Zebra". She possibly overcompensates in reaction by being militant about issues which affect black people.
  • Call-Back:
    • In Episode 6 of Season 1, Sam questions Dean Fairbanks if he'd be as indifferent to Troy if he were on the receiving end of police brutality just like Reggie in the previous episode, to which he responds, "He won't, because I raised him." In the finale during the protest, when Troy snaps at the revelation of the Hancocks (predominantly white endorsers against affirmative action and safe spaces for minorities) bribing AP House to stay quiet while realizing he is a puppet as Sam and Coco jabbed at and shatters a door window, he is quickly arrested. As he resists, one of the officers proceeds to draw his gun before Dean Fairbanks rushes outside to the scene, tearfully pleading for the officers to not shoot Troy.
    • Kurt confronts Sam about her true effectiveness at the end of Season 1. Rikki confronts Sam about her true motives at the end of Season 2.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Episode 5 of Season 1 is when the show takes a darker yet realistic turn where Reggie is held at gunpoint by campus police after a fight at a party, where he's considered the instigator and for nothing more than talking back to the officer.
  • College Radio: Sam's show.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Quite a few in Season 2:
    • Al, who is convinced the fire at Davis dorm was set to blame black students.
    • Trevor, who Joelle calls a “hotep,” which is explained here.
    • Lionel, who becomes increasingly fixated on Winchester’s secret societies, complete with a stringed bulletin board. The finale reveals that he might be Properly Paranoid.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Gabe accuses Sam of being at least partially responsible for escalating racial tensions on campus, leading to the rise of the alt-right at Winchester.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms:
    • Lionel in Episode 2 of Season 1 to the sounds of Troy screwing the women he has over. He finally manages to "go all the way" in the end of the episode after Troy gives him a haircut.
    • Sam does in this in the Season 2 premiere to while fantasizing being with Gabe, only to have Joelle walk in on her.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: In the season 2 finale, this is how the narrator introduces himself to Sam and Lionel, implying that he's actually a member of the Order of X.
  • Ensemble Cast: While Sam is definitely the face of the series, each of the main characters have episodes devoted specifically to them, and even the side characters have significant Character Development.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: There is rarely an episode where someone isn’t having sex. Especially Troy.
  • Everyone Has Standards: With racial tensions at an all-time high in the second season and now people acting openly racist on campus, Kurt actually sees himself mellowing out since he doesn't find any humor in Sam getting doxed and threatened. He also starts to somewhat understand racism and what the black students have gone through because of this.
  • Everything Is Racist: A central debate of the show. Sam is very extreme in her opinions about institutional racism, which even other Black characters sometimes feel is going too far.
  • Fag Hag: The woman in the couple who Lionel goes home with realizes she's this as her partner is really gay. She clearly makes her peace with it, because she's still with him near the end of the season.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting: The first 5 or so episodes concern the blackface party and the different reactions of the various characters, but eventually the show moves on to other topics while retaining each episode's focus on one character.
  • Gay Conservative: Silvio morphs into one, or really even further to the right, in Season 2.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Subverted. Troy expects both women to be into him and is disappointed when they only want to hook up with each other.
    Troy: I was working on that three way for days. Turns out they’re real lesbians who just wanted to buy some weed.
    Lionel: You mean two women into each other for reasons other than a straight man’s benefit? I’m aghast!
  • Greek Chorus: Rashid, an African exchange student, often comments on the peculiarities of American culture and most poignantly its dual obsession with and terror of addressing race.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Kurt was Sam’s main anatagonist in Season 1, but he is replaced in Season 2 with @AltIvyW. Though his privileged legacy white guy character doesn’t change much, he is genuinely disgusted with the hatefuleness of the Alt Right presence on campus and has developed a much better relationship with the A-P house. He also works with Coco to stack Rikki Carter’s audience with BSU and CORE members.
    • Dean Fairbanks goes from being a Uncle Tom-like Dean Bitterman to being a shoulder for Reggie to lean on, more clearly showing Troy that he truly does have his best interests at heart, and having the campus guard who pulled the gun on Reggie fired.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Kurt gives Troy some powerful shrooms to help Troy gain a better sense of his true comic identity. Troy approaches many of his former friends and loves to ask them what they saw in him and is ultimately confronted by Sorbet, Kelsey’s dog, who further confirms that Troy has been phony, self-serving, and scared in all his relationships. He ends with a naked Symbolic Baptism in the campus fountain he peed in when he was a drunk freshman.
  • How We Got Here: The first episode opens with the Blackface party and then shows how it came to this point.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Al complains about how Apple uses child slave labor in China to manufacture its phones, his phone starts going off. Guess what phone it is?
  • Incompatible Orientation: Brooke comes onto Lionel, even though she knows he's gay, insisting that's "too reductive". Naturally, her attempt fails.
  • Irony: Tessa Thompson, who played Sam in the film, here plays Rikki Carter, a black conservative commentator with basically the opposite politics (quite likely unintentional).
  • Killed Off for Real: Thane dies when attempting to "fly" out of a window while intoxicated near the end of Episode 3, Season 1.
  • Last Minute Hookup: In the Season 2 finale, Sam and Gabe reunite, Joelle and Reggie finally get together, and Lionel and Wesley have sex for the first time.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Reggie, Joelle, Lionel, and company return from watching a bad movie, they begin ranting about the different ways people of color are typecast and stereotyped in movies while looking directly at the camera.
  • Lemony Narrator: Giancarlo Esposito serves as one, humorously commenting about the events and issues of the story. Until the Season 2 finale where ''he's'' the one to meet Sam and Lionel when they finally track down the Order of X's secret meeting spot.
  • Lima Syndrome: Al falls in love with Sorbet, Kelsey's dog, after kidnapping her. Sorbet escapes the first chance she gets.
  • Loving a Shadow: In the penultimate episode of Season 1, Troy calls out Coco on the fact that she doesn't even love him, let alone like him - she just loves the idea of him as a model leader.
  • Love Triangle: Gabe is falling madly in love with Sam, but the latter later becomes close to Reggie who's been attracted to Sam from the moment he laid on eyes on her. Complicating it further is that Reggie himself is the object of an unrequited attraction from Joelle. It turns almost into a Love Dodecahedron when you add in that Sam dated Troy before the start of the series and Coco dates him briefly in season 1.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Lampshaded by Troy and justified (in a way) by Sam.
    Troy: Why are you covering like God is watching?
    Sam: Because He is? And it’s awkward with the lights on. With my flaws and all.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Dereca = Iyanla Vanzant
    • Carson Rhodes = Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • Rikki Carter = Tomi Lahren + Stacey Dash
    • Silvio = "Latino Andy Cohen" and Milo Yiannopoulos
    • Jerry Skyler = Tyler Perry
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • This is the cause of Reggie's fight with a white student, the latter having said the word in repeating the lyrics of a rap song. Sam later also tells Gabe she'll say it, but he can't, though light-heartedly.
    • Several gay characters are using the f-word and tell Lionel and Troy that this is their n-word.
  • Once per Episode: Each episode ends with the character who had A Day in the Limelight looking directly into the camera.
  • Overprotective Dad: The motive behind Dean Fairbanks' strict parenting - to mold Troy into a model individual so that he won't face the same struggles his father did as a black man.
  • Parody:
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Sam is able to break easily into Pastiche's Facebook page because their password is ''pastiche''.
  • Police Brutality: What sets up the second plot in the climax of Episode 5 of Season 1 - when Reggie eventually quarrels with a white student over N-Word Privileges at a party, campus police show up with an immediate assumption that Reggie was the instigator and demand identification while virulently dismissing Joelle when she comes to his defense. Reggie's quip "Fuck these pigs" provokes one of the officers to draw his gun on him, conjuring a scene that where people of color have either experienced and/or unfortunately not survived to tell the aftermath while the surrounding students are horrified and pleading with the officer to withdraw his firearm. Fortunately, though Reggie shakingly complies with fear for his life and does leave with it, he's understandably broken by the confrontation.
  • Put On The Bus: Nieka Hobbs and Ikumi do not appear in Season 2.
  • Rape as Backstory: Brooke reveals that a teacher raped her in the past, which explains why she's so motivated to support Muffy's allegation against Moses.
  • Romantic False Lead: Trevor is this for Joelle, who is really into Reggie.
  • Rotating Protagonist: Each episode is done largely from the POV of one particular character.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: Winchester is apparently rife with secret societies, a common Ivy League trope.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • In the first episode, the narrator says the writers need him to set up the plot because they're too lazy to do it the regular way.
    • Chapter I of the third season has some humorous comments about the problems with Netflix shows in their third season, which they are.
  • Shout-Out: In the series, Coco attempts to join the black sorority Alpha Delta Rho, which is the same sorority that Whitley joined in A Different World.
  • Take That!: Chapter I of Season 3 features a mild one toward The Handmaid's Tale, noting how what July (the expy for June) complains of is something many black women already had to bear. Not to mention the fact that the lead actress is part of a real cult, but doesn't notice the irony. In spite of this, Sam says that she's addicted and has watched the show religiously.
  • Take That, Audience!: Quite a few exchanges, particularly Sam's rants on her "Dear White People" radio show, can and are most probably meant to directly address certain audience members of the series as well as those who did not bother watching because of the title:
    Sam: Dear white people... wow. Y'all really trying it. I get that being reduced to a race-based generalization is a new and devastating experience for some of you, but here's the difference. My jokes don't incarcerate your youth at alarming rates or make it unsafe for you to walk around your own neighborhoods. But yours do. When you mock or belittle us, you enforce an existing system. Cops everywhere staring down the barrel of a gun at a black man don't see a human being. They see a caricature... a thug... a nigger.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Troy and Professor Nieka Hobbs.
  • Token Minority: Ikumi, an Asian-American student, joins the A-P crew in the middle of Season 1. Lampshaded by Ikumi, who introduces herself to the group as their “new catch-all Asian friend.” She is Put On The Bus in Season 2.
  • Walk and Talk: Lampshaded and discussed by Joelle:
    Sam: Hey, wanna go for a run?
    Joelle: Like white girls in TV shows when they need a visually interesting way to deliver exposition?
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Reggie and Troy react this way when Kurt tells them solemnly how he now understands that by supporting the system he's upholding racism.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Season 2, the reveal of @AltIvyW's profile page on Silvio's computer screen.
    • The ending of the season two finale where Giancarlo Esposito, the series' narrator, is the one to appear to Sam and Lionel at the Order of X's secret meeting spot.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Episode 4 of Season 1 reveals that Sam and Coco were once friends, since initially rooming together, but had a falling out after racial issues came between them. Later they reconcile somewhat.
  • You Just Told Me: How Coco learned about Troy's affair with Neika.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Professor Nieka Hobbs, who is clearly engaged to another woman, is having an affair with Troy. Coco later feels that Troy cheated on her after finding out he was with Nieka, though he didn't feel they were exclusive.
    • Sam nearly sleeps with Reggie before she's stopped by Gabe texting her. Gabe begins to fear she cheated on him after this too. It turns out that she did.
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