If we're being honest — and I'm a big fan of being honest — Netflix's Dear White People is an underrated show as a whole. The politically savvy comedy from Justin Simien, who wrote the 2014 movie prequel of the same name, tackles the racial and social issues of the fictitious Winchester University with unique wit, heart, and intelligence that makes it stand out from its woke television counterparts. That's in large part due to the cast's great performances and to the well-rounded characters who inhabit the university's campus, and while we love everyone who ends up in the Armstrong-Parker dining hall, there's one in particular who deserves a whole lot more respect put on her name. Hey there, Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson). We see you, and it's time to get your round of applause.
Joelle is part of a small handful of characters in the Netflix comedy who didn't originate in the film (though Featherson did play a background character in the movie). Joelle was introduced in Season 1 as the roommate of protagonist Sam ( Logan Browning), and from the get-go, it was obvious she was a grounding force in her roommate's life. But Sam's love triangle — and the first-season business of setting up the television world of Winchester — left us with little room to really get to know Joelle. We just knew she had dope hair and some of the best one-liners, and she kept everyone on point.
In Season 2, which spread the love a bit more, we learned that Joelle is also a badass pre-med student who is more than capable of handling her business. Sick of being in Sam's shadow, Joelle spent a lot of the show's sophomore season trying to forge her own path and find her thing outside her roommate's drama. That led to some fumbles, like accidentally dating a hotep (a faux woke black guy who acts like he worships black women, but is actually a homophobic misogynist obsessed with conspiracy theories that prove black men are the most oppressed group of people in the world). If you weren't on team Joelle by Episode 5, when she revealed her trifling anatomy lab partner to be the hotep that he was and told him to get lost, I don't really know what to do with you. She could have relied on Reggie ( Marque Richardson) to get rid of the guy, or dismissed the guy's statements entirely because it was nice to have someone's attention squarely on her, but Joelle insisted on calling out his problematic attitudes in front of everyone — Reggie just helped him find the door after Joelle read him for filth.
While Joelle definitely got more time in the spotlight in Season 2 than she did in the show's first offering, it still feels like she isn't getting the love she deserves compared to Sam's center-staging. Even Joelle's frenemy Coco ( Antoinette Robertson) got her moment with her empowering and heart-wrenching abortion storyline early in the sophomore effort. But the truth is, Joelle is the glue that keeps the entire group together.
Do you think Sam and Gabe ( John Patrick Amedori) would have reconciled if Joelle hadn't crossed the Cold War lines to help Gabe with the documentary that convinced Sam to actually talk it out with him? Would Troy (Brandon P. Bell) have had his breakthrough if Joelle hadn't told him point blank that he was squandering his privilege? It's for damn sure that Reggie would still be struggling in the pits of depression after his near-arrest, and Sam's rejection, if Joelle hadn't been there to show him what real love looks like. The entire crew would be expelled or potentially jailed if Joelle weren't there with the common sense.
Of all the people hanging out in the Armstrong-Parker lounge, Joelle is the one I most want to sit with and watch Defamation, one of DWP's hilarious shows-within-a-show, because I know that girl is going to have the best commentary. She's proven time and again that she's a ride-or-die type of friend (please see Season 2, Episode 9, when she dropped everything to be there for Sam during her dad's funeral). Joelle may not have the radio show that starts campus-wide riots, but she's a straight up queen, and the show and fans should start worshiping her accordingly.
Dear White People Season 3 is coming this year on Netflix.
This week, TV Guide is celebrating some of TV's most underrated female characters. As part of Women's History Month, we're giving it up for Shadowhunters' feminist icon Isabelle Lightwood, looking at why Doctor Who's Martha Jones deserved a better legacy, and more. You can check out all our Women's History Month content here.