‘Dear White People’ has themes that speak to Blackness surviving in white spaces. Sadly, that’s drowned out by utterly bizarre musical moments.

Dear White People season 4
DeRon Horton as Lionel Higgin in the future in season four. LARA SOLANKI / NETFLIX
  • Season four is a jukebox ’90s musical highlighting the performance of Black people living in America.
  • While the ending has clever themes these are drowned out by bizarre musical moments.
  • Warning: Spoilers ahead for “Dear White People,” season four.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

How do you end a contemporary series about racism – an issue that seems to have no end in sight?

For the showrunners of “Dear White People,” the answer is a jukebox ’90s musical that expresses the performative aspects of being Black in modern-day America, even though up until now, the series has not had a single musical episode.

“Dear White People” is a comedy-drama set in Winchester University – a fictional Ivy League institution – but uses that setting to hold a mirror to modern American society. When we’re introduced to the show, Winchester is diverse and according to some within that campus “post-racial,” now the university is actively, or rather performatively, dealing with its internalized racism after events that mimicked last summer with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It seems “Hamilton” ignited a fire in musical fans everywhere because in the last half of this year, we will get at least seven movie musicals, including a new adaptation of “West Side Story” and an adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen.”

At their best, movie musicals can inspire and showcase beautiful performances, at their worst, well … “Cats.”

Whilst “Dear White People” does have its fun and beautiful musical moments, most of the song performances feel utterly bizarre and make it hard to take the show seriously, especially when we get emotional breakup scenes set to NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” and Mint Condition’s “Breaking My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).”

Season four of “Dear White People” is obsessed with performance.

Dear White People season 4
Antoinette Robertson as Coco in a reality show parody of ‘Big Brother’ called ‘Big House. LARA SOLANKI / NETFLIX

Performance is a theme that touches almost every part of the story throughout this season, both literally through the singing and dancing, and metaphorically.

The creator and showrunner of “Dear White People” Justin Simien told Insider that the musical is the “perfect metaphor” for Black people existing in white spaces, which is exactly what the students at Winchester are experiencing.

One of the main characters, Sam White (Logan Browning) leads a radio show with the same name as the series, which normally criticizes the university and its students in an attempt to provoke change. Similar to how “Dear White People” was platformed last summer after receiving a boost of viewership after the death of George Floyd, White’s radio show also receives more recognition when it is publicized on the University website and on posters around campus.

Thematically, season four is incredibly clever. In particular, Sam’s journey of deciding whether to be radical or bide her time gaining influence to make change is a thought process that many have had especially after the events of last year made saying “Black Lives Matter” radical.

However, the clever themes are overpowered by the music.

There’s only one song that works: Marque Richardson’s hauntingly beautiful performance of “Virtual Insanity”

Dear White People season four.
Marque Richardson tap dances in a gun range to Jamiroquai’s ‘Virtual Insanity.’ COURTESY OF NETFLIX

That being said, the performance of Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” in episode five is a standout.

Watching Reggie Green (Marque Richardson) with a spotlight on him as he tap-dances in front of a bunch of white characters pointing guns at him is an incredibly haunting and powerful scene.

“Dear White People” was not afraid to tackle the police brutality problem in America in its first season, with a fight at a campus house party escalating to Green having a gun being pulled on him by a security guard who thought the computer major was a threat. This obviously has emotional and psychological impacts which Green deals with throughout the remainder of the show from avoiding that pain with vices to assisting and eventually worshipping Moses Brown (Blair Underwood), the campus hero who is later revealed to be taking advantage of his students.

Hence, this performance doesn’t only highlight his biggest fear, and fear for many Black men living in America, but also his decision to take back control, first by using the weapon that once harmed him and then by using his coding ability to develop an app to help his community.

Richardson gliding around that room sends such a powerful message that it almost makes up for the average musical performances in the rest of the series. If only more of the musical performances had as much purpose as this one did.

The “honest” but sad ending of “Dear White People” asks its audience whether they are willing to continue the progress made last summer.

Dear White People Season 4
‘Dear White People’ season four uses a bunch of different genres of music in its musical performances. LARA SOLANKI / NETFLIX

When asked by Insider whether “Dear White People” has a satisfying ending, Antoinette Robertson, who plays Coco Conners in the series, said that the ending was “honest.”

“We may achieve the height of our dreams and they may not necessarily be as gratifying as we believed. I think that rings true for all of the characters,” she added.

Robertson is right: despite the jokes and joyful performances, the ending of “Dear White People” does not end on a happy note. From its “controversial” name, “Dear White People” exists to raise conversations and questions without pointing to the right solution to ending racism and creating an equal equitable society because there still isn’t one.

However, if there’s one message the ending leaves with its viewers it’s that it’s up to them to continue the movement.

At the end of every episode, a character on screen stares directly at the camera for an unsettling couple of seconds before the screen goes black. This is used in a bigger way in the finale and, in light of the themes of performance, this has always been a change of view from us watching the characters to the characters watching us.

We’ve seen how they’ve succeeded and failed and now we become the performers, showing whether we are willing to make a difference or just turn off the screen and continue on with our day.

Last year, conversations advanced to realize that companies and individuals must be anti-racist instead of just not racist if we want to live in a world without racism. In the end, “Dear White People” asks its audience whether they can continue that anti-racist work or whether that was simply a temporary performance.

Grade: B+