You certainly don’t have to be a football fan to know about Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kneeled through the U.S. national anthem in protest against racism and police brutality. Now, years later, Kaepernick and co-creator Ava DuVernay are taking us inside the story of the famed athlete’s childhood in Colin in Black and White, streaming on Netflix on Friday, Oct. 29.
Throughout the series we see two Kaepernicks, the modern day, adult Kaepernick and the teen Kaepernick played by Jaden Michael, as we walk through the athlete's teen years as a skilled football and baseball player.
There are uniquely two perspective in the series, re-enactments of Kaepernick’s high school life and the adult looking back at his upbringing, adopted by a white family in Wisconsin that ended up moving to Turlock, California.
While we get a glimpse into the cultural, class and racial dynamics in Kaepernick’s life specifically, there is a much broader message about our society and racism.
“As a kid, you just love playing football,” adult Kaepernick says at the beginning of the six-episode series, going on to talk about football players, even young players, being poked and prodded, with Kaepernick making a connection to a slave auction.
We are also introduced us to Kaepernick’s parents in the series, Teresa and Rick, played by Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman, who are certainly supportive of their son’s athletic ambitions but lack understanding of their son’s experience in their predominantly white community and in a world where things are, to put it simply, usually seen in black and white.
The first episode shows us how Teresa and Rick managed their son’s desire to get cornrows, eventually leading to his Teresa saying he looks like a “thug” with his desired hair style.
There is also an episode centred around young Kaepernick and his parents going to different weekend baseball games in various California cities, where he’s faced with racism at every hotel they check into, including his mother being asked if “this man” (her son) is bothering her, and another woman refusing to give young Kaepernick a free sample of ice cream, while his white friend went back for seconds.
This culminates in a frightening moment when the young Kaepernick is pulled over behind the wheel of the family car by a police officer, while his parents just brush off the whole experience.
“I assumed their privilege was mine,” Kaepernick says as he reflects on these moments in his teen years.
Ultimately, the focus of Colin in Black and White is its message, using a moment in time that is so pivotal in everyone’s life, moving through the end of high school, to guide these modern-day vignettes to reflect on ongoing racism, injustice and oppressive systems in our society, and how Kaepernick is pushing for change.
“Some people will tell you the system is broken,” Kaepernick says in Colin in Black and White. “I’m here to tell you it was intentionally built this way.”
“I couldn’t rebel because I didn’t know how," he says in the first episode. "But now, now I know how, and I will.”