A more straightforward approach likely would have played better, and that structural fumble somewhat dilutes the dramatic sequences, which feature Kaepernick during his formative high-school years (well played by Jaden Michael). Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman portray his adoptive parents, who at one point call him “a thug” because they disapprove of his hair, and often seem oblivious to indignities he faced from figures like police, hotel personnel and umpires, having excelled in baseball before settling on football as his chosen career path.
Growing up with them, Kaepernick notes, “I assumed their privilege was mine. I was in for a rude awakening.”
At its core, the series serves as a venue to witness the racism Kaepernick experienced, conveyed in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, including the sidelong glances directed at a young Black man growing up in a predominantly White world. To those who only see professional athletes through the prism of wealth and fame, it’s a reminder that they weren’t always in that position.
“Swagger” covers similar territory, focusing on the pressure placed on teenagers in the pursuit to become NBA draft picks, beginning at a ridiculously young age.
Here, the focus is on Jace (Isaiah Hill), a hugely talented 14-year-old who has “NBA” etched on his wall, a reminder of his ultimate goal as he participates in youth leagues and seeks to improve his game.
His mother (Shinelle Azoroh) takes an active role in that, steering Jace to a youth coach (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) who was once a prized prospect himself, only to have lost that opportunity (a scenario explored via flashbacks) and now coaching as a way to stay close to basketball.
Anyone familiar with the system — from the shady role of agents to shoe companies trying to align themselves with future pros — won’t find a whole lot new here, and almost every episode seems to build toward a basketball game, complete with naysayers offering real-time commentary on social media.
Similarly, it’s possible to come away from “Colin in Black & White” with greater appreciation of Kaepernick’s personal journey and what motivated him to take a stand at considerable personal cost, and still feel like they’ve used the wrong creative playbook to make this work as a TV show.
“Colin in Black & White” and “Swagger” premiere Oct. 29 on Netflix and Apple TV+, respectively.