*Colin Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay’s “Colin in BLACK and WHITE” is now streaming on Netflix.
It is a series of powerful and necessary statements in response to those saying Colin Kaepernick has to say more than he has about his exile from the NFL.
That message is dressed as a coming-of-age tale of resilience, finding a racial identity and the value in confidently expressing that racial identity. Colin Kaepernick explains his journey as the biracial son of white parents emotionally his way. Kaepernick leaves no stone unturned in the limited series in a raw and truly relentless way.
Jaden Michael, who plays a young Colin Kaepernick, excels in his performance, and in the first episode, we learn that Allen Iverson was a major factor in developing Colin Kaepernick’s swagger.
The rebel in Allen Iverson was a big inspiration for Colin Kaepernick, and that influence ultimately became the catalyst for a future agent of change across the sports and cultural landscape simply by kneeling silently before NFL games to protest America’s embarrassingly primitive treatment of Black people — namely by police brutality.
One of the best points made in Colin in BLACK & WHITE is how one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison. When Allen Iverson stepped into the NBA, the league and its fans were amazed at how an athlete of his physical stature could become one of the most athletically gifted and cultural forces professional sports has seen. Allen Iverson challenged the way athletes dressed by being himself, and as hip hop took its rightful place in the culture of the NBA, Allen Iverson unexpectedly became such a polarizing figure that the NBA heightened its dress code standards for its players. Polarization existed because many thought professional athletes should look the part of past NBA superstars like Julius Erving and not resemble what mainstream society labeled as thugs strictly based on their appearance. When a young Colin Kaepernick decided to get corn rolls to fit in with a Black culture he wasn’t privy to as the adoptive son of white parents, his confidence level exploded when the woman doing his hair said he looked like the iconic Allen Iverson, and the rest is history.
Perception is not reality
In a pivotal scene later in episode one after soaking up the fashion sense and swag of Iverson he displayed at school, Colin Kaepernick and his parents are having dinner when they inform Colin Kaepernick that to continue to play baseball, he has to cut off his cornrows and adhere to his coach’s out-of-nowhere new rule. Initially, Colin Kaepernick laughed off the ultimatum because it seemed so silly. As he realizes his parents are serious about him complying, he scoffs at the demand that he become more professional in his physical presentation. His mom states, “It’s a team rule, Colin,” and after his dad says he does look unprofessional, Colin Kaepernick responds defiantly: “Unprofessional? Why am I supposed to look professional? I’m 14, I’m a kid.” His father then quips, “Rules are rules.”
This is the perspective that anyone that has ever worn corn-rows and judged for wearing them understands as a ubiquitous frustration. The rebellion in wearing a hairstyle that goes against societal norms can have its political advantages, yet the power and confidence in being exactly who you are for the culture is more powerfully important in the extreme.
Allen Iverson led a cultural phenomenon that still resonates in the NBA with its players: wear your hair the way you desire no matter who tells you not to do so. The perception that anyone is criminal simply because of their hairstyle is as ridiculous as it sounds, and that Allen Iverson pushed back at the NBA’s superficial view of its players resonated with a young Colin Kaepernick. It was a critical affirmation and Colin Kaepernick used the defiance of Allen Iverson as a fortress to unapologetically deal with the discomfort of others judging him.
Jaden Michael spoke about his introduction to Allen Iverson and The Answer’s cultural influence by phone as he prepares for the series’ debut:
“I didn’t know much about sports. I didn’t even know who Allen Iverson was, but now he’s like the ankle breaker. I own 3 pairs of Reebok shoes. He’s The Answer. I learned a lot about Allen Iverson. He’s someone I respect now. It’s been a true learning experience the entire time.”
I have to say that after watching the series and listening to 18-year-old Jaden Michael speak of how sports was simply not a part of his life, that his commitment to looking the part of an athlete was masterful in its execution whether on the basketball court, the baseball diamond or the football gridiron, and that execution augmented Colin in BLACK & White itself.
Colin Kaepernick choices
In 54 basketball games at Pitman High School in Turlock, California, Colin Kaepernick averaged 13.8 points a game. The three-sport star was more focused on his dream of becoming an NFL quarterback, yet it was his baseball skills as a pitcher that earned the most attention. The 6’5″ flamethrower threw a 90 plus mile an hour fastball and compiled a 9-2 record as a senior with a 1.27 ERA. Colin Kaepernick, at 190 pounds, struck out 97 batters in 83 innings, had 9 complete games in 13 starts, gave up just 42 hits and threw 2 no-hitters.
Colin Kaepernick was drafted in the 43rd round by the Chicago Cubs, yet did not sign because his ambition for football was more emphatic despite him not receiving any offers by the middle of his senior year in high school. It was that ambition that inspired Jaden Michael to do his due diligence in representing Colin Kaepernick, the athlete more accurately onscreen: “The challenges are immense. Someone who is real and sharing the screen with you (Kaepernick narrates the series and looks at his life in real-time from the future in scenes). Every mistake you make is highlighted tenfold because in the next scene the audience will see the real person. It’s also a very physical project so, I’m not someone that wants the devil to do my work. I always want to run my routes, or throw the football or do my stunts like throwing myself off scaffolding. When you’re dedicated physically and emotionally to creating an authentic recreation of young Colin, the challenges are huge. Not to mention, it’s a polarizing subject. The audience is going to be torn; split. What was difficult for me at first, I wanted to make the show for the people that love Colin. Having the conversation or having to show being a catalyst for the conversation — by having the tone of Colin, and his choices be more acceptable for more audiences can create more understanding.”
Jaden Michael’s performance is telling because as a biracial man himself, he relates to the message Colin Kaepernick brings to the audience about his experience. An experience only Colin Kaepernick can express despite being told that his view of his own life really isn’t his to shout to society. Jaden continues: “We’re all human. We all have our opinions. We all have the choices that we make. We shouldn’t be shunned for them. We shouldn’t be mistreated for them. We shouldn’t have other people’s agendas pushed upon us because our opinion is different than yours. This is how we’d like to see the world. We’re not saying that each of our opinions needs to be implemented into society. We’re asking that you listen. We’re asking that you recognize your power. We ask that you recognize that we deserve to be listened to. We have our voice.”
Colin Kaepernick in BLACK & White
Incentivized by the fearlessness of Allen Iverson, Colin Kaepernick is also fearless in how he sheds light on how America views Black men. He does so in a straight no chaser way that — while making his stance completely known — will force a society deeming him as unpatriotic to turn the mirror completely on themselves.
The response to this powerful series will be most interesting as the racial climate in America evolves. Often, Blacks are defined by the media rejecting any notion that Black men should stand up for themselves. Standing up in ways that will develop a true sense of independent confidence without personal and internal suspicion that ultimately will delay a true sense of self as it relates to any form of success — whether as President of the United States, as a leader of corporate society, starring as a professional athlete using his platform to highlight injustice, or even in their own homes as fathers to raise their families as they choose.
Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who appeared in a Super Bowl, takes the baton from Allen Iverson and throws a thunderbolt into the present and definitely the future. It is Jaden Michael that makes this all believable in the limited series with his appropriate portrayal of Colin Kaepernick, yet will society at large see the points eloquently expressed by Colin Kaepernick through Jaden Michael, or will it do what it has done for so long and miss the teaching moment that will make us all smarter, more unified and ultimately greater?
Jaden Michael concludes about why Colin in BLACK & WHITE should be viewed: “To learn! Learn the truth. I feel like the media has misrepresented Colin. They misunderstand what his politics are. You can learn the truth by watching this.”
Judge yourselves accordingly.