Rachel Dolezal initially became a public figure for positive reasons but after a question about her race, she soon became a public subject, with the jury out on her true character. Netflix Documentary The Rachel Divide follows the subject, critics, family and friends in the aftermath of the national debate that has split opinion.
A lot of thoughts came to my mind whilst watching The Rachel Divide. The first was that I found it incredible how Rachel Dolezal had managed to transform herself into such a leader of race-based discrimination. I mean, she’s white, and she somehow managed to infiltrate the NAACP to become a senior figure that represented hope and a voice that meant a lot to black communities locally and nationally.
The second thought that came to my mind, is that I am not convinced there is a divided opinion on Rachel Dolezal in the USA. The Rachel Divide makes it abundantly clear that its subject is not liked in the public eye, resorting herself to private friends and keeping her public appearances limited. The documentary opens up with the beginning of her downfall; a journalist asking if she is African-American. Her immediate hesitation and the holding of the tears held the answer; The Rachel Divide is a case study of Rachel Dolezal, and not one that takes sides. The Netflix original documentary did not make me mad, it made me confused due to its extremely balanced nature of telling the story.
We are living in unprecedented times, where the term identity is becoming commonly debated. Rachel Dolezal claims to be trans-black, in that she is white but she feels black. The black US communities can understand the repercussions this may have, especially in America, which even today suffers from extreme cases of racial discrimination and violence. This is a tough subject to handle because as the documentary signifies through a series of interviews with black people, being actually black-skinned is much more of a struggle than a white woman claiming to be black. This problem becomes apparent plenty of times throughout the documentary, however, I guess I could not help feeling sorry for Rachel Dolezal.
Despite my hunch that I think that she has lied an awful lot, The Rachel Divide makes it clear that she has suffered from an oppressed childhood with parents that emotionally abandoned her due to their own beliefs. The documentary tries to carry the narrative that as she got older and more separated from her white family, she has become more connected with the black community, which is how she landed where she is today. Rachel Dolezal may feel infuriated that the Netflix documentary did not hone in more on this case, and swiftly moves to the media perception and her continually getting targeted in interviews.
In today’s modern world, social issues are often debated and handled on Twitter. The Rachel Divide tackles the problem of social media, how it can ultimately destroy a character after one wrong move. The problem was never going to go away, journalists would have always sniffed out that she was not biologically black, but the evolution of the story is clearly presented as insufferable. Her children in the documentary are just as important as Rachel Dolezal because their lives are impacted just as much. I could not help think that maybe she should have done more as a mother to help her children in such a wind of intense scrutiny.
In the end, The Rachel Divide is one woman, regardless if her story is true or not, trying to fight the world mostly through the confines of Twitter and Instagram. I find it hard to imagine many people will sympathise with Rachel Dolezal because of this documentary, but it will leave you wondering what the symptom of the problem is.
Netflix original documentary The Rachel Divide will at times allow you to support the subject but at other times undoubtedly make you raise doubt about her character. Despite the documentary clearly showing her in more of a negative light than a positive, I was still divided on my opinion on the case and even now, I cannot provide a theory to the entire ordeal. Regardless, it is worth watching, but I do not feel this will ever be resolved. I also did wonder if this is a step forward on the discussion of identity or one significant sad step backwards.