Cultural icon. Activist. Athlete.
The titles thrust upon Colin Kaepernick are many, but they ultimately fall well short of giving us a true sense of who he is, or a better sense of clarity on the events of his life that helped shape him into the social justice warrior he has been for so many years.
That all changes with the Netflix series, Colin in Black & White, co-created by Kaepernick and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay. The six-part drama is centered around when Kaepernick was in high school in Turlock, California, which is 60 miles east of San Jose.
The series is narrated by Kaepernick and provides greater insight into the societal and cultural factors that helped catapult Kaepernick into being one of the more prominent voices in the global social justice movement after he knelt during the playing of the national anthem during a 2016 exhibition game as a sign of protest towards police brutality and social injustice.
“Ultimately, it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s going on in this country,” Kaepernick said in a 2016 interview when asked about what he hopes to come about after kneeling. “There are a lot of things going on that are unjust; people arent’ being held accountable for. That’s something that needs to change.”
Colin in Black & White also features Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker portraying the white couple that adopted Kaepernick, who is Black, as well as 18-year-old Jaden Michael who portrays a young Kaepernick in the series.
Although he’s still young, Michael has been in the entertainment industry since he was two years old. He understands the importance of being able to pivot in whatever direction the role calls for in order to be as authentic as can be and thus, connect with the audience.
But portraying a three-sport athlete like Kaepernick was indeed a test for Michael’s power to pivot.
“I never played team sports growing up. I was in and out of auditions too often,” says Michael, who starred in Wonderstruck and Vampires vs the Bronx. “I remember I did soccer for maybe two weeks and my mom had, like, a panic attack because someone kicked me and I never did soccer again.”
And while acting and sports may seem very different, Michael admits that there are some important parallels between the two.
“They complement each other nicely,” Michael said. “Acting is very emotional, but there’s a lot of physicality to it; being very conscious about your body language, how you move. Athleticism or team sports specifically are very physically-based. There’s an emotional side to it. But it was difficult trying to learn 18 years of three different sports in three months. And then after learning how to play the sport, then having to learn how to play it like Colin. He throws the football very specifically. It was good fun.”
As Michael soon learned, there were other subtle nuances of the quarterback position that Kaepernick was eager to help him better understand for the role.
Michael said Kaepernick would talk to him about some of the more minor details that you can’t glean from a picture or video of Kaepernick playing, such as what he’s looking for in the pocket that lets him know when the time is right to stay in the pocket and throw the ball downfield or look to run.
Those interactions led Michael to have a greater understanding of Kaepernick, one of the more reclusive, high-profile athletes out there.
“He’s a very hard person to read. He has a very flat face so you’re like, ‘gimme something man! Give me something!” quipped Michael. “But he warms up and starts being joyful and jovial. I feel like once I got to know him a little bit, he really opened up and was very, very helpful.”
And this Netflix series should prove helpful in providing a greater understanding of the role that Kaepernick’s formative years played in him developing into an iconic figure in the social justice movement in this country among athletes.
“It’s a big story but it’s an important conversation,” Michael said. “It’s a conversation that has been overlooked for too long. I’m glad…the conversation can be catalyzed through Colin and through the story.
Michael added, “This isn’t Colin’s explanation for why he knelt. It’s an ode to his past and then, highlights situations he’s been through that leads to what creates a legend and what creates a cultural icon.”