It is satisfyingly ironic. Vitriolic comments directed at a trailer for a new Netflix show about endemic racism in American sport and life only serve to prove the urgent need for a show about endemic racism in American sport and life.
Colin in Black and White is a docudrama series about, and co-created by, the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose career as an American football player was famously curtailed by the rancour surrounding his decision to take the knee during the national anthem. In 2017, this unshowy act of civil disobedience turned the athlete into a lightning rod for abuse from sport fans and political fanatics. President Trump went so far as to publicly call on the league’s franchise owners to “get that son of a bitch off the field”.
But as we see in this illuminating and often entertaining six-parter, which largely focuses on the star’s adolescence, people had been trying to keep Kaepernick off the field — or else control what he did with his life outside the pitch’s touchlines — since his high-school days. The game that black sportspeople have to play isn’t football, or baseball, or basketball, Kaerpernick argues, but finding a way to survive and thrive when the rules are rigged against you. “Playing ball the right way is playing ball the white way,” he quips.
Developed in collaboration with feted director Ava DuVernay, Colin is presented with originality as a kind of collage: a vibrant hybrid of scripted coming-of-age tale, dramatised caustic sketches and short lessons about black history and present-day inequality narrated by Kaepernick. From the opening minutes, in which a line-up of black American football players transforms into a manacled procession at a slave auction, it appears that the show’s approach will be similar to that of a defender about to launch into a vertebrae-jolting tackle.
Not that the series is relentlessly hard-hitting or possesses a sermonising tone — though many might be rankled by sections on “microaggressions” or the “white seal of approval”, in which the paucity of social currency available to African Americans is laid bare. There are also moments of humorous cynicism, not least in Kaepernick’s commentary of anecdotes from his life, beginning with an episode about the young Colin’s (Jaden Michael) attempt at getting cornrows, to the consternation of his conservative adoptive mother and father (Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman).
The show’s title is perhaps most meaningfully addressed in the scenes which explore Kaepernick’s confused identity as the black son of two white people. “I assumed their privilege was mine,” he reflects in an episode in which he is repeatedly assumed to be his parents’ assailant rather than their child.
The impact of Colin can become attenuated by too many platitudinous lines (“I wasn’t there to play, I was there to dominate”; “go get the future you want!”) picked out of a less-than-Super Bowl of sport film clichés. But there’s enough well-executed poignancy and polemic on show that nobody should mind too much if the ball is fumbled once in a while.
On Netflix now
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