This post contains mild spoilers for Dear White People Season 2.
Theres something intangibly special about those early stages in a relationship, when two people find themselves tethered together via an endless stream of text messages. Theres the anxious peeking at the screen to see if a new one has arrived, the rush of a notification, and the cozy satisfaction of settling into a comfortable rhythm. In those early days, the world becomes a more peaceful version of itself—one in which the volume of everything else seems to be, at least temporarily, turned down to a murmur. But this special moment can pose a challenge for TV and film creators: how on earth do you translate that experience, a bizarre blend of circuitry and psyche, into something visual—something real? In its second season, Dear White People proves its got the best answer to that question yet—and who better to delve into the topic than a series thats itself a part of that digital world?
Like actual college students, the shows characters are constantly oscillating between the physical world and the digital world—primarily via text messages and Twitter. Like Jane the Virgin,Dear White People usually uses on-screen text bubbles to show characters messages to one another. Sometimes, though, its methods are more subtle: at one point, Lionel walks side by side through campus with his new beau, idly chatting. Its only as Lionel says, aloud, “TTYL” and a passerby walks in front of the camera that we realize their conversation wasnt happening IRL—instead, they were texting. According to Dear White People creator Justin Simien, the moment was inspired, in part, by scenes like one from the 2004 movie Closer, in which Jude Law and Clive Owen have an intimate (and deceptive) instant message conversation.
In an interview, Simien said that the show is, at its core, about America and all the systems that underpin it—a heady idea that gets reflected in the way that the digital world interacts with the real world. “To be an American citizen is to be a part of this mass improv, and it can get confusing because you start to confuse the play for who you are,” he said. “And that's compounded when youre part of a community that has been decided is less than. And so this idea of, theres a difference between your person and your persona was already in the DNA. . . When we started to get into how that is being literally replicated in our digital lives, now we have a third persona or a fourth persona. My voice on Facebook is different than my voice on Instagram. So now I have eight personas, and I have to juggle them all.”
The show emphasizes this concept by its second-season focus on Twitter, where activism-driven Sam finds herself feuding with a troll called @AltIvyW for days on end. Even as she goes about her daily life, her enemys presence repeatedly intrudes on her—with tweets hovering on-screen, simultaneously representing the latest missives and the feuds intrusive presence in Sams mind. Even if shes in class, this digital conflict is visually encroaching on her immediate surroundings. That, Simien said, was intentional.
“The thing about Twitter is that when youre in your phone—yes, youre walking on the streets of New York—but mentally, youre actually someplace else,” Simien said. “And so I just wanted to find a visual language for that: how do I show that theyre here, but their mind is elsewhere, without cutting to a tiny screen every single time?”
In finding the answer to that question, Dear White People has found another way in which on-screen text can be used to deepen a story. Just as Jane the Virginhas used unsent text messages to explore how a fear of vulnerability can make us intentionally obscure ourselves from the ones we love, Dear White People shows how living through screens can effect our relations to one another—and ourselves. For Sam, whose identity is at least partially shaped by her status as a public figure, the line between persona and person is more blurred than most—which is why it can be so hard, throughout the season, for her to let those Web-based feuds go. At a time when many people live the majority of their lives staring at one screen or another, Dear White People is finding new ways to explore what that really means—from its own perch on your device of choice.
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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.
Yara Shahidi takes the lead in this youthful Black-ish spin-off set to air on Freeform starting Jan. 3, 2018. In this series, Zoey is finally off to college, stumbling through cringeworthy rites of passage like embarrassing herself at a frat party and hiding secrets from her parents.Photo: By Eric Liebowitz/Freeform.
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The Winter Olympics
Tis the season to watch a bunch of perfect human specimens fight for tiny gold medallions. This years Winter Olympics will kick off on Feb. 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.Photo: By Julian Finney/Getty Images.
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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.