In 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who pretended to be black for years, was the president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, an instructor at Eastern Washington University where she taught classes called The Black Woman’s Struggle, African and African American Art History, African History, African American Culture, and Intro to Africana studies, and she was the chair of the Office of the Police Ombudsman Commission in Spokane.
Her seemingly perfect life crumbled when her parents, family members, and media revealed that she had been lying about her ethnicity.
Now, almost three years after Dolezal resigned from the NAACP and was terminated from Eastern Washington University, Netflix intends to air a documentary about the past two years of Dolezal’s life called The Rachel Divide. When Netflix dropped the trailer on Wednesday, March 7, the backlash was immediate.
Social media came alive with people angered by the streaming giant for putting Dolezal, who changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo in 2016, back into the spotlight instead of airing projects “created by real black women.” And they weren’t the only ones unhappy with Netflix’s decision.
Dolezal’s son, Franklin, said he resents some of his mother’s choices and, in a clip from the trailer where he is clearly distraught, said he doesn’t want to focus on this for the rest of his life and asks his mother why she just won’t let it go away. Franklin said that his mother could “identify whatever she wants to be because it’s her business, but when it’s put in the limelight, I don’t think you should be p—ing people off more than they already are.”
And that’s exactly what this documentary has done, even before its scheduled air date of April 27.
New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow expressed his frustration on Twitter, saying “when PERFORMING BLACK gets more attention than actually BEING BLACK.” And an article in The Root summed up what many people think about the documentary they feel should never have happened.
“This is a situation that is entirely within Dolezal’s power to stop, but she doesn’t want to. She is apparently getting some kind of charge out of all the attention, despite the fact that it’s negative.”
This isn’t the first time Dolezal has sought the public spotlight as she wrote her memoir, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World, that was published in 2016. And she never backed down from her belief that she is black, writing in the memoir, “Just as a transgender person might be born male but identify as female, I wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t but expressing something I already was. I wasn’t passing as Black; I was Black, and there was no going back.”
There has been no word from Netflix whether public outcry might affect its decision to release the documentary.