“Why am I the one who always has to prove them wrong?”
This question hovers ominously over Colin Kaepernick’s bold and beautiful biographical Netflix limited series, Colin in Black and White. Touching on Kaepernick’s journey as an adopted child, Black and White is ultimately about much more than the story of a young athlete. With Kaepernick himself as storyteller, the series uses his journey to wrestle with issues of race, class and culture. With every leap forward towards his career as NFL quarterback, so too does the young man find himself battling a system stacked against him. Even so, Kaepernick believed that his dreams were much larger than what others believed he could do and he chose to lean into his calling.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, Black and White is a fascinating blend of memory and truth that seeks to challenge our assumptions and allow Kaepernick to finally be heard. Part The Wonder Years and part African-American history class, DuVernay and Kaepernick have created something truly unique. With pop flair and energy, Black and White is a stunning mixture that draws the viewer in with its style but challenges them with its substance. Focusing the narrative primarily on Kaepernick’s high school football years, this is not a series that looks to simply explore a certain period and place in time. Instead, it wants to get to the heart of questions and issues that are taking place right now. By re-examining key moments in his youth through the eyes of adulthood, the series allows Kaepernick to grapple with larger conversations about the racial divides, biases and stereotypes that remain rooted in the heart of American culture.
There is a courage that Kaepernick shows that sets him apart from other voices right now. Having taken on the role of activist after being released from the 49ers for his stance against racial injustice, he has become a key voice to challenge the systems that continue to remain oppressive. With each episode, Kaepernick shows that he has always had to struggle to be seen for his abilities. (“From the day I was born, I’ve never been anybody’s first choice,” he explains.) However, despite what he has seen and experienced, Kaepernick has continued to show strength in his ability to speak on behalf of others.
Appearing as the show’s host and narrator, Kaepernick’s presence is felt throughout the entire series. Dressed in all black and holding a playbook in his hands, he calmly and passionately speaks with honesty and forthrightness, all the while challenging assumptions about himself and his culture. As a young man, he experienced prejudice simply due to his hairstyle. As a promising young quarterback, he was often held back due to his skin colour.
Time after time, he was placed in a position where he had to prove them wrong.
But this is not a series which looks to air grievances against those who have stood against him. Instead, this is an opportunity for him to challenge ideological systems and help alter perspectives. Smartly written and stylistically presented, Kaepernick speaks boldly about issues that he has experienced but, more importantly, affect millions more on a daily basis. Conversations around white privilege, beauty standards and what it means to play the game ‘the right way’ force the viewer to explore the unconscious (and conscious) biases that they may either face (or hold) themselves.
In the end, Colin in Black and White is a phenomenal piece. From DuVernay’s skills behind the camera to Kaepernick’s forthright conversations about issues of change, Black and White is essential viewing for anyone willing to engage in topics that are never easy to discuss. While Kaepernick’s story is tragic on many levels, it is only one of many who have felt the cold sting of injustice. So, why does Kaepernick have be the one to prove them wrong?
Because, as his mother says, ‘[he’s] the one who’s strong enough to do it.’
Colin in Black and White is available on Netflix on Friday, October 29th, 2021.