Colin in black and white – Makings of an American Icon – By Roderick Thomas
When Colin Kaepernick took a knee (Kneeling) in favor of racial equality, he faced outrage and national criticism. The backlash surrounding his choice to kneel in solidarity with the black community was roaring. Some white soccer fans burned his shirts, posting videos on social media expressing disdain and disappointment at his views. Politicians and media figures like Donald Trump have called for Kaepernick’s removal from the NFL. To date, 2017 would be Colin Kaepernick’s last year to play in the NFL. However, Kaepernick’s racial issues with the NFL were not his first experiences with racism in sports, a truth well illustrated in Netflix’s limited series. Pollock in black and white, realized by Ava Duvernay. During this year’s screening of Pollock in black and white, I had the privilege of not only previewing the show, but also hearing Ava Duvernay as she was interviewed by ABC’s Robin Roberts (Good Morning America).
At the start of the series, a young Colin Kaepernick is seen in his early teens played by actor Jaden Michael, living with his adoptive parents in Wisconsin before moving to California. From the start, it’s clear that Colin is adored by the people around him. Kaepernick’s life is filled with love, sports, and endearing Midwestern charm.
One of the many criticisms Colin Kaepernick has received over the years has been about his “Darkness.” Some have called his involvement and struggles for racial equality a mere consequence of the current racial climate ––– a fashionable result of Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements. However, in the series we see a different story. Pollock in black and white shows a young Kaepernick grappling with his identity in very white American settings. Colin’s hair, in particular, played a key role in his early struggles for racial equality.
Like many children of African descent born and adopted by non-Black parents, hair is often a challenge for their caretakers. In the NBA legend of the early 2000s that of Allen Iverson the signature braids (cornrows in particular) and personal styling have garnered her a swarm of media attention, quite often the negative press. Iverson’s natural hairstyle was described as unprofessional, and like many black men, he was casually labeled a thug. Colin Kaepernick grew up idolizing the young NBA legend, he emulated the basketball skills and style of Allen Iverson. Black hair politics are being used to set the stage for the challenges Kaepernick would face as a biracial black young man in America. Despite his fair complexion and relative racial ambiguity, Colin’s otherness in his surroundings and mostly white hair sets him apart. Her hair was arguably her darkest id. Soon Kaepernick would also be called a thug and unprofessional, not for his demeanor, but for his braided hair.
Despite the criticism Colin faced from his trainers and parents for his natural hairstyles, we still see a young man wielding the joys and undertones of dark hair care. From having her hair braided in the houses of young black women, to her first experience as a black hairdresser. Colin’s journey through his black perspective is very entertaining and heartwarming to watch.
Colin’s parents, although described as loving caretakers early on, struggled to understand their son and his blackness. We see his mother especially struggling with Colin’s need to connect with his black identity. What is perhaps also present but not openly indicated in the first episodes is his desire to be all he needs, his “real” mother. The subtext of her discomfort is a kind of maternal insecurity – am I not enough?
Kaepernick’s parents turn out to be suburban white people who are aloof from the many ways they should protect their son. However, Colin also confesses that he also went through life with scholarly white daring, albeit with limited success. Nonetheless, Colin would face racial discrimination and police assault without parental protection as a young teenager.
The series masterfully addresses microaggressions as a general subject and as experienced by Colin Kaepernick in particular. Ava Duvernay weaves into her documentary style, infographics, and edutainment a coming-of-age series and elegant visual storytelling performed by Kaepernick himself (think Cinematic Bernie Mac monologues).
Robin Roberts: [ How did you come up with the idea to put the show together the way you did?]
Ava Duvernay: [ you know, I have experience doing documentaries and shows like Queen Sugar. So all of this was organic and part of trusting the process. The idea to weave the show together like this wasn’t necessarily written down. You just have to trust your gut.]
Cinematography in Pollock in black and white is superb. Colin Kaepernick’s highly stylized visual storytelling was very reminiscent of the Matrix with a cool blue undertone and crisp lighting. It could have been difficult to mix with the warm, familiar lighting used throughout the series, as we see Colin living his teenage life. However, it all mixed together well. The contrast between the visual storytelling, the scripted series and the documentary style makes this a very entertaining show.
A star is born
Without a doubt, Jaden Michel who plays a young Kaepernick is undeniably a star. His interpretation of Kaepernick was breathtaking. It was like watching a young Leonardo Dicaprio Pollock in black and white may be his first moment of walking on the moon (see Michael Jackson) As an actor.
Personally, much of the spectacle resonated with me. I remembered my own experiences with micro-aggression as a teenager, as well as overt racism. I remembered my high school policy on unacceptable hairstyles, which all included mostly black hairstyles –––– no braids, no big afros, and restrictions on dreadlocks. I also remember having my hair braided into cornrows for the first time (never did this again) and realized that my head was too soft for tight cornrows. Also, my forehead was too big for the styling.
Pollock in black and white is a stunning portrayal of the early years of former NFL stars. The show immerses us in the world of the young black athlete who later became an icon of equality. To concern Pollock in black and white, now streaming on Netflix.