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There’s obvious weight to the story of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49er who used his platform as an NFL star to protest police brutality and racism, much — it would ultimately turn out — to the detriment of his own career.
So viewers tuning into Colin in Black & White, Netflix’s new series co-created by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay, may be surprised how much levity the show carries. A six-part drama that follows a young Kaepernick (Jaden Michael) as he navigates teendom and discovers his racial identity with two white parents (Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker) in a small Northern California town, the series has comedic beats that recall past coming-of-age stories like The Wonder Years and Everybody Hates Chris.
“Sometimes it’s heartwarming, sometimes you’re laughing, sometimes you’re laughing with him, sometimes you’re laughing at him,” DuVernay told us during a lengthy video chat discussing the series (watch above).
Still, Colin in Black & White packs heavy social substance throughout its entirety, particularly during interludes in which Kaepernick himself speaks directly to the camera in breaking down issues like bias against Black quarterbacks, the significance of Allen Iverson’s cornrows and Donald Trump’s dog-whistling usage of the word “thug.”
“He brought me his story, I brought him the cultural context/social context history interludes,” DuVernay says.
It was Kaepernick who approached DuVernay, the filmmaker behind powerful fare like Selma (2014), 13th (2016) and When They See Us (2019), to co-create the series with him in the first place.
“I wasn’t [originally] sure that this was something that appealed to me,” she says. “I wasn’t sure that it would be something that I could make into a piece that would appeal to other people until I started to hear the stories. He started to tell me the stories of his high school years. I had no idea that he was a Black adopted child of two white, well-meaning, loving parents who lived in an all-white town and who didn’t quite know how to raise him as a Black kid. I didn’t know that he was a three-sport athlete whose best sport was baseball… I had no idea about that stuff.
“But I think the thing that really interested me was, as he was telling me stories, I was like, ‘Oh, this is an origin story of a superhero. This is the first steps of someone listening to their own voice when nothing around them is saying ‘You can be this or do this.’ And somehow was able to tap into an inner guidance that we all have.”
Kaepernick became one of the most divisive players in NFL history when in 2016 he began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice. His activism has seemingly blackballed him from the league since 2017, even in the wake of widespread #BlackLivesMatter protests that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the NFL embracing more social justice messaging from its players.
The former 49ers star is still training in hopes of returning to the league, though his bio-series collaborator isn’t necessarily in favor of a comeback.
“That’s not my wish for him,” says DuVernay. “I know it’s his wish for himself. And as a friend and as a supporter, I want him to have what he feels will make him happy. My wish for him is to be in a place that’s healthy and free of harm, and I feel like that’s a harmful environment that’s diminished him and really doesn’t deserve him. That’s my point of view.
“But the brother’s working out, he’s doing his thing. And so I cheer him on and support him as a friend. But I think his destiny is so much larger than that place.”
Colin in Black & White is now streaming on Netflix.
Watch the trailer:
-Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee