Colin Kaepernick remains one of the most intriguing, influential and polarising figures in the United States, even in 2021.
The former NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist’s life changed forever after he started kneeling during the US national anthem at games in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality, sparking an unprecedented national reckoning and debate about civil rights the likes of which have rarely been seen in America.
Despite being shunned by the NFL – Kaepernick remains unsigned as of 2021, despite his sporting talents – he’s inspired countless young Americans and become a huge enemy of the conservative establishment, including former President Donald Trump. He remains one of the most prominent activists in America: running seminars, founding a publishing company, and now, producing his own documentary.
Colin in Black & White, a six-part limited series that premiered on Netflix at the end of October, is a semi-fictionalized autobiographical journey through Kaepernick’s teenage years. and the experiences that led him to become an activist. It’s a touching, no holds barred at the reality of growing up as an adopted, biracial boy in a society that struggles to deal with both those issues.
We’re not here to review the series – we recommend you watch it yourself. What we’d like to talk about is how polarised its critical reception has been, and what it tells us about America (and the world) in 2021.
Just take one look at the IMDb page for Colin in Black & White and you’ll see that the user ratings paint a grim story. It’s basically all 10s and 1s, with a lot more 1s outweighing the 10s. It’s not hard to see what’s going on here: you have a lot of conservatives marking the series down, and a lot of progressives coming in and giving it high marks to balance it out.
It shows just how polarised Kaepernick remains, as well as how vast the political (and racial) divide in America remains. It’s the same old talking points from the conservative commenters: Kaepernick’s just playing the victim despite being so wealthy, this is the ‘woke’ mainstream media forcing an agenda, it’s reverse racism, etcetera etcetera.
Let’s not pretend as if this political and cultural polarisation is unique to this show or that it exists only in America, either. It’s something that Australia and other countries also need to reckon with, too.
As an aside, this points out a fundamental weakness with crowdsourced movie/TV review suits like IMDb, namely that it’s really easy for overly biased reviews and bad actors to affect a show’s rating in such a drastic way. Kaepernick fans and progressives ‘review bombing’ is just as bad as prejudiced conservatives doing the same.
Another problem with IMDb is that it prioritises user reviews over professional critics. Ultimately, it’s the consumer – as well as the public discourse, when it comes to non-fictional or politicised works like Colin in Black & White – that loses out in all this, as it’s hard to figure out how good something really is.
A more reliable litmus test for the quality of Colin in Black & White can be found in Rotten Tomatoes‘ Critics Consensus, which relates that “Black & White‘s clunky format fumbles the fundamentals of storytelling, but this hybrid series nonetheless scores a touchdown in conveying Colin Kaepernick’s truth.”
But as if to illustrate our point, there’s a huge divide between the critics and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, too: 73% vs. 37%…
At the end of the day, people need to watch the series themselves and come to their own conclusions. Colin in Black & White probably isn’t some cinematic masterpiece or a triumph in storytelling, but it’s also not the hack job haters are making it out to be. The issue is that the rating’s don’t tell that story.