This argument convinces. As in her excellent previous documentary 13th – which exposed the racial injustices of the American prison system – DuVernay tells Kaepernick’s story in a distinctive scrapbook style. Graphics and newsclips torque together, doodles scrawl across the screen, and scenes spool back and forth for dramatic and comedic effect.
It sounds unwatchable: Spike Lee on Sunny Delight. But it is actually zesty and kind of fun. An early moment, for instance, where an NFL tryout morphs into a slave auction is joltingly effective.
But this zippiness underscores how clod-footed the rest of the series is. This has nothing to do with its message. Instead, it’s that Kaepernick’s biography as told here isn’t all that remarkable – or interesting. Given up for adoption at five weeks, he was taken in by a white couple, Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. And he grew up in the soccer-mom suburb of Turlock, California: “A place known for dairy farming and a scarcity of black people.” This tension ought to provide fertile ground for drama and insight.
But Kaepernick’s adolescence is presented as a merry-go-round of sporting triumph, high fives and ever-so-slightly-spiky scenes of racial miscomprehension: a wheezy-chested version of The Blind Side. Jaden Micheal is sweetly likeable as the young Kaepernick. But his mother, played by Mary-Louise Parker, is a chilly parody of middle-class fear, flinching away from rap music and quivering when Kaepernick gets his cornrows done at a black barbershop.
As his father, Parks & Recreations’ Nick Offerman, perfects the art of a hang-dog raised eyebrow. He seems, though, to have communicated with his son exclusively in sports movie clichés. If the aim was to show how cloying and soporific white middle-class existence is, then job done. But it makes for deathly TV.
This approach isn’t Kaepernick’s fault. But it shows up the Netflix Original Content Conundrum: the more you hose celebrated film-makers with money, the slacker the results tend to be. Buried inside the loose folds of Colin in Black & White is a lean, sharp-edged polemic about the American sports-industrial complex. As it stands though, this series stumbles some way short of the end zone.
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