TV Review: MTV’s ‘White People’

White People TV Review MTV
Courtesy of MTV

The title “White People” was clearly intended to provoke folks like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who eagerly took the bait. Get past that, and MTV’s latest addition to its “Look Different” campaign is a credible if rather thin exploration of “white privilege” and the evolving conversation about race. Produced, directed and hosted by filmmaker/journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, the documentary focuses on how younger whites view matters of race, including those afflicted by a sense of victimization regarding affirmative-action policies and those who favor a color-blind society. It’s generally interesting, but seldom digs farther than skin-deep.

Part of that, obviously, is a function of time. Flitting across the country to conduct focus groups from Arizona to North Carolina, South Dakota to Washington state, Vargas covers a good deal of ground, literally and figuratively.

Despite how some conservative pundits have characterized the material based solely on a trailer for it, the goal isn’t to “shame” white people. Nevertheless, Vargas’ earnest examination skates rapidly across whites’ discomfort in probing matters of race, and some of the interviewees’ more questionable assumptions, without getting to the root causes. In the case of perceived victimization, for example, there’s scant mention of the elaborate conservative media substrata devoted to promoting those beliefs, or how coverage of minority grievances in more traditional and left-leaning venues plays into that apparatus.

Similarly, some of the head-scratching utterances from the young people Vargas interviews are left dangling (when not punctuated by musical cues), such as references to “white” being “the default race,” “the norm” and “the good thing.” While it’s hard not to wince at the terminology, it’s difficult to separate subtle racism from a lack of articulateness, given how little thought some participants have seemingly given to how being white defines them.

Vargas weaves a fair amount of solid data into the presentation, including projections regarding the U.S.’ growing minority population and the way some neighborhoods (he uses the Chinese influx into Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst as an illustration) are experiencing notable demographic shifts. Yet even within the context of the network’s larger public-service/education campaign, the special would have been improved by either a narrower approach – zeroing in on one or two of the focus groups – or by expanding it to two hours.

Although it’s become popular to say America must learn to speak frankly about race, the media’s short attention span and tendency to get distracted have a way of interrupting that process. With its ability to reach younger viewers MTV — which launched, a campaign against “hidden racial, gender and anti-LGBT bias,” in 2014 — certainly has something to contribute. “White People” in theory is a reasonable place to start, but as constructed, this opening salvo is more of an invitation to have that talk one of these days than a fully realized discussion.

TV Review: MTV's 'White People'

(Documentary; MTV, Wed. July 22, 8 p.m.)


Produced by Punched in the Head Prods. and Define American.


Executive producers, Amelia D’Entrone, Craig, D’Entrone, Erika Clarke, Jose Antonio Vargas, Betsy Forhan, Stephen Friedman; director, Vargas; lead editor, M. Brennan; camera, Matthew Caton. 60 MIN.


Correspondent: Jose Antonio Vargas

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 7

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. being white is the new minority…equal rights and freedom of speech does not exist anymore for
    anyone who is white….I thought that the recent flag controversy was rediculos-then I saw where a
    grave was being exumed because the “non white” people proclaimed the confederate general was
    racist…and wanted his body removed from the cemetery! “we the people” no longer has any meaning
    in America…our accepted group has to be gay,black, and transgender? ? I don’t get it…

  2. Tiger says:

    All this show does is bash on white people. Other races discriminate against whites JUST as much as whites discriminate against other races…why not create a show based on that? Why is it just about whites? I have been discriminated against for being white plenty of times. It does not feel good and I would not wish that upon anyone, but Jose Vargas fails to see that whites often feel discriminated against as well.

    So “White People” states that whites get more scholarships, but Jose also claims that there is no discrimination present when deciding between two races of who gets the scholarship (oh, I’m sorry, except for the fact that whites get more scholarships, right?)–as in the example of when the Filipino got the scholarship over an even more qualified white person, but did you all conveniently forget about the white college student who got denied admission into the University of Texas for being white back in 2013?? Or what about Vijay Chokal-Ingam who posed as an African-American to get into medical school? Although Vijay is not white, it just shows that there IS discrimination present! And white people DO get discriminated against just as other races do!!

    Nonetheless, Jose Vargas fails to bring all the facts to the table just to prove his point. Sorry Jose, get ALL the facts and then maybe you’ll make a logical point.

    I am disappointed that MTV would grant a show like this to air on their network. I am considering not watching MTV anymore…

  3. rose says:

    I watched this show for 15 minutes and they kept saying the “numbers” say white ppl get more scholarships than minority ppl. Not one of these ppl had the sense to ask where these numbers came from and whether or not it was bios.Not one of these young ppl challenged the “numbers”. It’s ll bull. That’s why I don’t watch bull shows like this.

    • I did some research on population statistics in the US…. Which is fairly trivial, but sheds some light on the numbers.

      White Only Percentage: 77%.

      If whites are 77% of the population and they get 76% of all MERIT-BASED scholarships I fail to see any racism.

      A better metric to use for this analysis is what percentage of students that apply for merit-based scholarships are white

      Without first knowing the percentage of applicants that are white the 76% figure Mr Vargas throws around is completely useless. Further more, even if you did have those numbers, you could only claim correlation… not causation.

      Merit-based scholarships are available to everyone provided you have high enough grades or whatever the criteria is. Black people have access to black-only scholarships and merit-based scholarships. White people only have access to merit-based scholarships. So if they presented numbers showing the total scholarships (not just merit-based), the numbers would be different.

      They are clearly presenting stats in a very dishonest manner for the sake of white-shaming. What a disgusting and racist money grubbing piece of crap Mr Vargas is. Is it just me, or is this vaguely reminiscent of Hitler using fake science to demonize the Jews?

  4. wolf says:

    This show does nothing but shows ignorance and hate.
    You know what is the disavantages that “white people” or light skin people have. We are judged base on our skin and history of judgement, slavery, the hate and anger.
    Doesn’t matter who we are, just like anyone else! We are all same!
    Doesn’t matter the ignorance breeds hatred doesn’t matter what color we are or what we do.
    I’ve been called a white racist bitch because a lady was trying to cut in line and I told her no she had to wait.
    I am only half white, the other half is native American.
    I claim my white side because I disown my other blood.
    Not because of the race, but from being raped and constantly being told I was worst less because I was half white! That being white was horrible! From the time I was i could remember I was 11!
    I told her “please go ahead and make a report please because I am not the nose in air ignorance person who judge on what someone looks like, or history! I judge on what they do to other people!”
    I have had drugs Shot in me, abuse of both mental and physical, by that side of blood. When we were left with them. Our father didn’t ask he took us and then left us with them. We were worthless because of the white in us.
    My mother was white she didn’t get help! No matter the brusies scars and cuts.
    Because of the hate that side of family did to me. I started to become dark, hating because that is how I saw all of native Americans that was because of them.
    That is where my ignorance and hate started. I wish I could go around and be proud of my blood…I am til I am asked of my father! That is where I disown that side. I wish I could brag about my family tree. I only know of 1 side bring hate and the other being only saver.

    Being white they say gives you money and privileges.
    I’ve always been beaten and abused by my fathers blood or by other kids. I lived in holes in walls with my mother and older brother!

    My mother took care of use she taught us that hate comes in all colors! Because of the ignorance of their views. An my mother helped me to learn not be racist! An get over the hate!
    We went days without electric,water or food. She did paid for everything! She did everything she could. We may have been white but we’re is the money they say white people get automatically or the respect. The snap that mom got for me and my brother $60! That’s it for a month! You know why because she worked a full time job then 2 part time.
    We were judge by everyone because we were poor, fatherless broken home! Because we were “white trash” because my mother went through abuse so we won’t be judge because half our family judged us and took advantage of.
    This show may point out some good points. Though I do question mainly about going to a kids school and point out the difference and then make fun of the guardians that are different from them.
    Where is the point of the people who are judge because of being poor, broken homes, abuse. Judge because of being different, Where is the racism against that! This show is horrible and is creating more ignorance and hate!
    My brother is a cop to help stop shit like what we went though from happening!
    Cops get lots of racism because of certain people that work for them! He made something of himself not because of race but of will power and determination! Most people think he is Hispanic because he took after our other blood then I did! An he is still called racist because people who like to use skin color to try to get out of jail. ignorance and hate that is what breeds racism that is what breeds to the next generation and after that. you can look at history and it shows you. every country has their history on different races and what white people have done to them. so Don’t say they don’t have the history. again I will tell you the difficulties that white people have, since you want to judges in a minority.
    humans point fingers at other humans that is how it is always been an xscape goat!

  5. Larry says:

    In the best traditions of the Hitler Youth, the Red Pioneers and the Deustche Madchens, this show is about how to do “good”.

More TV News from Variety