Tackling the past
Controversial former quarterback tells his coming-of-age story in Colin in Black & White
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In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a firestorm of controversy by kneeling during the national anthem. Kaepernick explained he would not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.”
Netflix’s new limited series Colin in Black & White (rated TV-14 with numerous expletives and innuendos) dramatizes Kaepernick’s high-school years. The adopted biracial child of white parents raised in a mostly white community, Kaepernick narrates formative experiences that shaped his later activism. He pivots from incidents of prejudice he encountered to occasionally heavy-handed history lessons about injustices black people have faced.
The first episode’s opening scene might cause some viewers to dismiss Colin outright: Football players, undergoing coaches’ scrutiny during workouts, morph into shackled slaves at a slave auction. Million-dollar contracts equate to involuntary servitude? Throw a penalty flag!
Mostly, however, Kaepernick recreates his wondrous discovery of black culture and recounts seemingly small but hurtful incidents at the hands of white people. A hotel hostess denies young Kaepernick (a superb Jaden Michael) a second serving of ice cream not withheld from his white baseball teammates. Another time, his mother says he must cut his hair, styled after basketball star Allen Iverson’s, because “you look like a thug.”
“I couldn’t rebel because I didn’t know how,” Kaepernick tells viewers. “Now I know how.” The show’s co-creator, he certainly knows how to serve up his own microaggressions. His parents (Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker) usually come across as buffoons. In the sixth and final episode, Kaepernick sours his adoption story by complaining his parents originally wanted a different baby.
“Since the day I was born, I’ve never been anybody’s first choice,” he says.
Surely, there’s a glass-half-full interpretation, too.
The only allusions to Kaepernick’s professed Christian faith appear to be in mockery: The same irksome praise tune plays on the family minivan’s radio during road trips.
Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers at the end of the 2016 season. By then, he was a lightning rod for fan criticism, perhaps explaining NFL teams’ refusal to sign him. He hasn’t played football since, and the last three episodes of Colin hint his absence from the sport grieves him. Rebuffing all advice, the high-school Kaepernick turns down numerous pro baseball teams’ offers, holding out for a football scholarship that finally comes.
“Trust your power,” Kaepernick concludes. “Rejection is not failure.”
But trusting your own power only goes so far.
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