“Are you African American?”
This was the question that blew up the ruse of a life (or race) that Rachel Dolezal had been living for a number of years. When Netflix broke news that they were working on this documentary, there were a lot of unhappy people who felt Netflix could spend their money in other ways and Dolezal was not a worthy candidate. I didn’t feel that way. Yes, she is deservedly persona non grata but the story is so bizarre, that I was very curious to hear what she had to say straight from the horse’s mouth. Besides, documentaries aren’t only made about topics or characters that are comfortable.
We are introduced to Rachel’s family from the very beginning of the doc. Rachel has a biracial son, Franklin and an adopted son, Izaiah (her adopted brother who she adopted) and we learn she is pregnant and expecting a third son (scandal not withstanding, Rachel still getting it in y’all). Her son, Franklin is wise beyond his 13 years and not dealing with the scandal well at all. After we get to know her current family, the doc eases us into some history into her first nuclear family.
Rachel was born into a religious family where they had two biological children, Rachel and her brother and later adopted 4 black children. Rachel says her parents were physically abusive towards them and this story is corroborated by her sister – who ran straight to Rachel when she turned 18 and shows us some of the scars on her body and Izaiah who she adopted to save him from them and refuses to even talk about his past. There’s also another brother who claims he has no idea what they are talking about and he was fine.
Now as this was playing out, I thought I got a glimpse as to why Rachel keeps insisting she is black because raising and having black siblings doesn’t change your race. As we moved past that and got to the part where she does a publicity tour for her book, I slapped myself for almost slipping.
When Rachel is filling out the birth certificate for her child, she checks both black and white, which is probably the closest to her admitting she is white because Rachel is hell bent on insisting she is black and isn’t changing her mind for nothing. The whole thing is so disrespectful. How hard can it be to simply say “I am a white woman who strongly identifies with the African-American community” still a little suspect but way better than claiming to be one. To counter the argument of the work she did while in the NAACP, why exactly can’t she do that as a white woman?
All of Rachel’s demons aside, I truly felt for her son Franklin. Over and over, he kept expressing his displeasure over his mom not being apologetic and letting the smoke die (the woman keeps interacting with trolls on social media and drawing attention). You would think Rachel would take this into consideration but nope, she keeps forging ahead with whatever it is her agenda is.
I think what I liked most about the doc is that I learned information I did not know before watching. I did not know about her siblings, we learn why her parents outed her (sick family, yo), had no idea Ms. Dolezal was a good painter or there are black people who identify as white (lol). I thought the doc was fair and didn’t lean heavily to any side. Just presented some information to the audience and lets you come to your own conclusion.
By the end of the doc when Rachel goes to the DMV to change her name, I am over it and I want to shake her but this is beyond normal comprehension and a lost cause. I would recommend it as a watch and if you do, do not go in expecting to get some sense from her. Watch it to take part in a bizarre ride.
*featured pic from radaronline