During a traffic stop in the third episode of the recently released limited Netflix series “Colin in Black and White,” a teenage Colin Kaepernick played by Jaden Michael is driving a car and is caught speeding.
The tense encounter ends only when the cop finds out Kaepernick’s an adopted Black kid with well-meaning white parents who are fortunately also in the car as passengers. He lets Kaepernick off with a warning.
While Kaepernick is left shaken and breathing heavily, his mom, played by Mary Louise Parker, says brightly, “You dodged a bullet!”
His dad (Nick Offerman) smiles and adds, “You just beat your first ticket.”
The series, produced by Ava DuVernay (”Queen Sugar”) and former NFL player and current social activist Kaepernick, isn’t exactly subtle about the indignities the future NFL quarterback faced growing up in a tiny, mostly white California town.
Kaepernick, now 34, as an adult became a pariah in football after choosing to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. The issue is referenced only briefly in the series but is clearly the impetus for its very existence.
“I even have some friends and people I consider family friends who don’t agree with Colin but found [the series] really inspirational and enlightening,” said Michael, 18. “They may not agree with his political ideology but they can respect him as a person.”
INFLUENCING POSITIVE CHANGE
Michael thinks Kaepernick is misunderstood, painted in ways that don’t reflect reality. And he has been a fan of Kaepenick’s even prior to being cast to play him. “I think it’s important if you have any influence upon society or your community, you should use it for positive change,” Michael said. “The fact Colin would do it so selflessly and put his entire career on the line was incredible to me. I look up to him.”
When Michael was cast, he didn’t think he could play Kaepernick because he didn’t think his background growing up in New York City had anything to do with Kaepernick’s childhood in the 1990s and 2000s with white adoptive parents.
“Seeing his childhood and how he was raised, I realized he was human and just like many of my brothers and sisters in Harlem and around the world,” Michael said.
The series isn’t just an autobiographical recitation of Kaepernick’s formative years. It also is a history lesson of sorts, with the actual Kaepernick as host and commentator. Often, he is seen watching his younger self and providing contextual background on words and phrases like “thug,” “acceptable Negro” and “microaggression.”
Michael did not compete in high school in any of the three sports shown in series: basketball, baseball and football. He needed a lot of coaching and said it was a major challenge to look like he knew what he was doing in two months.
“I grew up skateboarding in New York City,” he said. “I knew how to control my body. I feel like acting is also sort of physical in nature. You have to understand your body and body language. It was correlated so I had a little preparation. But it’s completely different learning the dedication required with team sports.”
Michael said the scene where Kaepernick was pulled over by the cop was not easy. He had to absorb Kaepernick’s naivete at that time concerning the power dynamics between a cop and a Black teen.
As a Black teen, he had already been taught how act in front of a cop in those situations but had “to throw them out of the window” so he could live inside Kaepernick’s young brain.
What Michael himself has learned from Duvernay is one of the final comments made in the series: “Trust your power.”
“She had allowed me to trust my Blackness, the side of me I hadn’t completely understood,” he said. “My mom’s Latin. I wasn’t really raised by the Black side of my family. Ava really commands attention. She commands respect. She has that confidence I aspire to have in the future.”