Joining the cast of a show like UnREAL, which has been heralded as one of the sharpest pieces of social commentary on television today, is no floatie ride on a lazy river. But Gentry White is more of a whitewater rafting kind of guy anyway. White plays Romeo, the cousin and business-savvy manager of Darius, Everlasting’s new male suitor. As black men, the characters of Romeo and Darius are central to Season two’s attempt at shining a spotlight on the ways that race colors everything from the optics of mainstream entertainment to struggles of romance, power and reputation.
DuJour caught up with White to talk about his experience on the show, how effectively he thought the show’s social critiques landed and his thoughts on the history-making finale episode.
When you were first cast as Romeo, what was your process of getting into character for that role?
Honestly, Romeo isn’t too far from me as Gentry. Romeo is determined, strong willed and looks out for his family at all cost. Those are qualities I like to think I have too. I will say that playing the cousin to the suitor was much easier once I knew it was BJ Britt who had been cast. We’re both from North Carolina so having to try and mask my southern accent wasn’t as necessary as it has been for other roles I’ve had.
This season of UnREAL really dove into the mire of racial dynamics. As a black man, what is it like stepping into someone else’s vision of those conflicts, and did you feel that the show captured the essence of those conflicts realistically?
I commend UnREAL for deciding to come directly at the world with its topical matters this season. They don’t hold back at all. If anything they continually push for more dynamic situations and subject matter. I respect UnREAL for showcasing a black man being shot by the police wrongfully—however, I do wish that we’d had more time to really dig deep into the after effects of that issue.
Do you feel that pop culture has a responsibility to reflect contemporary social justice issues?
ABSOLUTELY. People care more about pop culture and what they see on television more than what their dying grandmother would say (haha). I always say that kids are more likely to listen to someone on TV than anyone else, so I think we should be tackling matters of the world in a way to move people toward more “oneness.”
Were you familiar with The Bachelor/ette franchise before being cast? What value do you think a show like UnREAL has in subverting the ideas depicted in those shows?
I’d never watched The Bachelor or The Bachelorette prior to shooting the show. I watched like 15 minutes of it in one of my cast-mate’s apartment when we first arrived in Vancouver, and we had to turn it off. I’m not sure why so many people like it. But a lot of people are not aware, or “WOKE” as I like to put it, about what really matters in the world. Shows like The Bachelor are perpetuating this idea that the only men/women that are universally attractive and worthy to marry are white, clean cut and rich. That’s not real life. UnREAL breaks it all the way down and that’s why it’s successful. People can’t watch UnREAL and ever see reality TV the same way. We have to look at what shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are doing to the minds of those who watch it and to those who participate in it. I like to think UnREAL is the death of reality TV.
The finale really set itself up to comment on our society’s limited perceptions of picture-perfect love. Darius, a disgraced professional athlete trying to rehabilitate him image, has the option of picking Tiffany—who, as Rachel has pointed out to him, is “blonde, beautiful, rich, and white. If a girl like that forgives you, America forgives you”—but in a twist, Ruby, the strong-willed black woman who challenges him, returns with her own proposition. What did you think of how it all played out?
I love it! What a twist with Ruby coming back and telling Darius that they should just continue dating and see where it goes outside of Everlasting’s manipulation. That’s so REAL! That’s so beautiful and how it should be handled in such a bizarre situation. How could you marry someone after only knowing them for a couple of weeks, while he or she has been dating multiple other people, on a televised dating show? It’s absurd. But I love the Ruby character because she’s smart and keeps it real. I love that she is of a beautifully dark complexion as well as the suitor. Black love is totally real and awesome and I love that UnREAL shows that. Now that’s me talking… Romeo on the other hand… He’s not as thrilled with that outcome, but at the end of the day is pleased that his cousin is happy, healthy, and hopefully still rich. HA!