Colin in Black & White movie review (2021)

The keyword for this series is “context.” Kaepernick, who has been more argued over than listened to, clearly relishes having the mic here—the first episode opens on his face in a tight closeup as he directly addresses the viewer. The subject of discussion? The toxic power dynamics of pro football tryouts, complete with the dehumanizing treatment of prospective players being compared to the experience of enslaved men on the auction block. It is not subtle; it is not trying to subliminally nudge viewers—this series is here to educate, and class is in session. “Some people will say the system is broken,” Kaepernick says at one point, when discussing systemic racism, “I’m here to tell you it was intentionally built this way.” He is not pulling his punches. It feels deeply unlikely that any of the critics who were up in arms about his kneeling protests will be watching this series, but one imagines that if they did they might spontaneously combust in a ball of rage.

Focusing on Kaepernick’s high school years as he comes into his own as both a multi-talented athlete and his identity as a young, biracial Black man being raised by two white adoptive parents, “Colin in Black & White” puts Kaepernick’s more recent rise to prominence as an activist in the context of a lifetime of defying expectations and challenging status quos. The series goes the extra mile of further putting Kaepernick’s activism in context not just within his life, but in the wider sociopolitical, ideological context of U.S. history. Allen Iverson, Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s famous “Doll Test” made famous by the role it played in the Brown v. Board of Education case, and “father of hip-hop” Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, are among the many historical touchstones woven into the series.

At its best, “Colin in Black & White” feels a bit like the sports equivalent of what philosopher Slavoj Žižek did for movies with the “Pervert’s Guide” documentaries in which he scrutinized the ideological underpinnings of iconic films through staged re-enactments, only more widely accessible and personal in the telling. At its lower points, the series is somewhat less than that, more after-school special-ish, with a tendency towards heavy-handed dialogue and truisms that feel about as fresh as something served straight from a can. Jaden Michael carries the weight of the series as young Colin and does a truly excellent job bringing energy and vitality to even the most heavy-handed scenes that could have easily turned rather painful with a less capable lead. Kaepernick himself has many talents, but based on his performance as narrator here—often on screen, directly addressing the camera as he guides viewers through his adolescence and pauses for historical detours—acting is not his strongest suit; his delivery is earnest but a bit one-note at times. While Kaepernick has been known to sport all-black outfits before and considering the messaging of the series an all-black look makes perfect sense, the black trench coat does make him looks a smidge like he stopped by on his way to audition for the upcoming “Matrix” sequel.

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