LONDON: There can’t be many people who have not heard of Colin Kaepernick, or how his decision to take the knee during the US national anthem turned him from star NFL quarterback into an internationally renowned activist — and made the blood of one particular former US president boil. But in this limited autobiographical series on Netflix, Kaepernick reveals that the seeds of that symbolic action were planted long before that 2016 game.
Part teen drama, part stark documentary, “Colin in Black and White” is comprehensively captivating. Working with co-creator Ava DuVernay, Kaepernick narrates a dramatization of his teenage years as a promising young athlete and recounts a number of pivotal events and experiences that informed his subsequent activism. Jaden Michael stars as young Kaepernick, while Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker turn in incredibly nuanced performances as his adopted parents. Kaepernick appears as his present-day self, narrating the story and guiding the audience through a number of socially contextual asides and tangents which add background to the teenage star’s experiences. On paper, it sounds a little twee and self-indulgent. In practice, it is utterly riveting. Watching Kaepernick watch himself as a younger man, knowing how his brushes with societal and institutional racism will only become more significant as he gets older, is spellbinding and horrifying in equal measure.
Michael is a revelation, balancing the wide-eyed optimism of a black child raised by white parents — and, in Kaepernick’s own words, naively assuming that their privilege would be his own — with the growing realization of just how hard he will have to fight to be considered on equal footing. Kaepernick too, is remarkable, as he paints a depressingly bleak picture without lapsing into self pity and only ever radiates quiet power and determination. He also avoids the temptation to take cheap shots at opponents such as Donald Trump and his infamous calls for players who took the knee to be fired. “Colin in Black and White” is much more than its simple premise suggests — and all the more captivating for it.