This post contains mild spoilers for Dear White People Season 2.[hhmc]
If you liked Defamation, youll probably love Prince O Pal-ities—the new show-within-a-show thats got the residents of Dear White Peoples Armstrong-Parker house hooked.
Last season, the students couldnt tear themselves away from a Scandal parody in which a clear Olivia Pope stand-in has an affair with the president—amid shocking revelations, including the man she thought was her father was actually a clone of her father. But this time around, the series du jour is an Empire knock-off, guest starring Lena Waithe as rapper P. Ninny. The Armstrong-Parker kids cant get enough—but as their traditionally black residence hall integrates, the encroachment of white students complicates their group viewing experience.
While it might be easy to write off these mini-parodies as clever but ornamental, as Dear White People creator Justin Simien pointed out, they actually serve a deeper purpose on the show by presenting another dimension of identity for theDear White People to explore.
“I think in a lot of ways, the show is about the dichotomy between the roles that we play and who we really are. And the thing that conditions us is our culture and the things that we watch on TV. And 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,” he said.
That dynamic becomes apparent during the season premiere, when a group of black students tries to watch a raunchy reality series among their white peers. As all of the white people in the room double over with laughter at the shows Love & Hip Hop riff, many of the black students look uncomfortable. As one of them puts it: “This show is my shit, but this feels wrong. . . Im conflicted as fuck!”
“Theres no judgment against Empire,” Simien said, “but there is a difference between watching Empire as the only black person in the room and watching it with all other black people. There is a difference, and it strikes you differently. And I just wanted to portray that. . . I think its a way to sort of acknowledge that some of the things that I like to watch on TV may not be advancing the culture all that much, but its a balance, man. These kids need to relax. They need to enjoy themselves, and its just made a little bit more complicated, now that white people have sort of invaded their safe space.”
Watch closely—as Dear White People narrator Giancarlo Esposito exhorts at the beginning of every episode this season—and youll also see that theres also more to Waithes character than meets the eye. P. Ninny appears on not one, but three different meta-shows this season: Prince O Palities, the Love & Hip Hop parody, and the fictional advice show Dereca: Set Me Straight—a carry-over from Season 1 that satirizes OWNs Iyanla: Fix My Life, and starring Dahéli Hall as Dereca. Pay attention, and you might notice that P. Ninnys story, as expressed across the season, vaguely mirrors the arcs of various other Dear White People characters. Like some of them, shes harboring a bit of an open secret—one that affects her career as well as her personal life.
When stitched together together, these fictional shows provide another context in which Dear White People can explore the question of identity—both how we form our identities, and how our perceptions of ourselves can change depending on our surroundings. Meaningful as they might be, though, these little meta-shows are also a lot of fun. And as Simien admitted, theyve given him an outlet through which he can honor his own pop culture obsessions.
“Im obsessed with these shows, and shade is my love language,” Simien said. “I would never miss an episode of Iyanla, Fix My Life; how do I show my shady love for it? Well, I create a bizarro version of it. My dream was to have Iyanla [Vanzant] have Dereca on to fix Dereca, because Dereca is insane.” From his lips to Gods (or maybe Oprahs) ears.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:22 Movies and TV Shows That Will Save Us in 2018
Westworld (Season 2)
HBO is once again hoping youll ignore the big Game of Thrones-shaped hole in its schedule and turn your attention back to the sci-fi mind game that is Westworld. The Emmy-nominated series, starring Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton, is ready to confound you once again in its second season. Until its spring 2018 premiere, take a trip back in time and revisit nine burning questions we still have about the finale.Photo: By John P. Johnson/HBO.
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The Winter Olympics
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A Wrinkle in Time
The classic Madeleine LEngle tale is finally coming to the big screen on March 9, 2018, thanks to Disney and director Ava DuVernay. The sci-fi story about a girl tesseracting her way through time to find her missing father will star newcomer Storm Reid alongside stars like Oprah Winfrey,Mindy Kaling,Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine.Photo: By Atsushi Nishijima/Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
After some catastrophic ups and downs, Han Solos origin story will finally be revealed to us on May 25, 2018. The Star Wars spin-off stars Alden Ehrenreich as the galactic smuggler and also features Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and Emilia Clarke playing a mysterious character named Kira.Photo: From Lucasfilm Ltd./Everett Collection.PreviousNext
Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.