Colin in Black & White: Jaden Michael Discusses Playing Colin Kaepernick

Colin in Black & White
Amarr Wooten, Jaden Michael, and Mace Coronel in ‘Colin in Black & White’ (Photo Credit: Ser Baffo © 2021 Netflix)

Since Netflix released Colin in Black & White on October 29, 2021, the six episode limited series has been among the streaming service’s most popular content. Created by Emmy Award winner and Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay and ex-NFL quarterback/activist Colin Kaepernick, the binge-worthy drama concentrates on Kaepernick’s formative years.

Jaden Michael stars as Colin in high school with Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman co-starring as Colin’s adoptive parents, Teresa and Rick Kaepernick. The real Colin appears throughout the six-episode series as the narrator, sharing pivotal moments from his life in and out of the world of sports.

Netflix recently hosted a Q&A for members of the Critics Choice Association with the cast and DuVernay. During the Zoom conference, DuVernay confirmed it was Kaepernick who suggested setting the limited series in high school. He believed that talking about his life foundationally would help viewers understand how he became who he is.

“It would be a way to enter into his story and his life at the least political time, when he was just a kid, so folks might be able to come into the heart of the story without all the trappings that are hot button issues,” said Ava, explaining that as they talked about the project she felt each of his stories would allow them to springboard into larger social issues. “We decided to make a pastiche, a collage, and weave this stuff together.”

During the Q&A, Jaden Michael provided insight into the casting process, the challenges of playing Colin Kaepernick, and what he hopes viewers will take away from Colin in Black & White.

On How He Became Involved in Colin in Black & White:

Jaden Michael: “I had no idea how to play football. I was not interested in team sports. I think when I was like five or six my mom put me into a soccer game and someone kicked me. My mom had a panic attack. She’s like, ‘Never again! You’re never doing team sports!’ But the audition process was very normal. Well, normal enough for Covid, I would say. We were in the middle of the pandemic and lockdown and I had to recruit my family to come and teach me how to play basketball and football so I could send in a tape for Ava and Aisha (Coley, casting director) to prove I was a little athletic at least.

I think there was like five or six auditions. Ava flew me out to California so we could Covid-safely audition together and so we could meet and discuss more about Colin. But it was a fairly normal experience – other than the fact it was for the role of Colin Kaepernick.”

On His Approach to Playing a Young Colin Kaepernick:

Jaden Michael: “It’s such a beautiful part of the show and Colin’s relationship with the rest of the world is his relationship with his parents. Before actually even getting the role, I spoke with Colin about his relationship with his family. In another project I had worked on I played an adopted child so I had a lot of context and research just as to how personal the adoption system can be for each child. I was very interested in learning how connected Colin felt with his parents.

It was sort of surprising for me at the time to know how deeply in love he was with his parents and how much he appreciated them for the effort that they put into raising him. For that reason, I really wanted to focus on that relationship and that love between the two white parents. And especially toward the end of the show Colin starts to come into his own and he gives his dad a little look before he leaves to college. It’s kind of like, you know, ‘I know you messed up, but I still love you.’ I think that embodies their relationship and his deep love for them.”

On the Most Daunting Aspect of the Project:

Jaden Michael: “I think it was definitely the fact that I’m sharing the screen with Colin. When you’re doing a biopic and you’re playing James Brown or Jackie Robinson in 42, you get a little bit of leeway as far as how creative you want to be because the audience can’t directly compare your performance with that of the real-life person. But when Colin is on screen and his mannerisms and his face movements and his personality is directly capable of being compared by the audience, it gets a little bit more difficult. But it’s a great challenge and I loved it.”

On the Impact of Starring in Colin in Black & White:

Jaden Michael: “It has completely changed my course of direction and the choices I make in my life. From a personal point of view, it has changed my connection with my roots. My mom is Dominican, but my father is Black and I was disconnected with that side of my roots. This show has given me a platform to more in-depth understand where I come from and what that means. So, from a personal level it has matured me and my understanding of myself.

And from a creative perspective it’s given me so many tools to use in the future and the ability to share stories that are more authentic and are more real – stories that I want to tell.

I also find that it’s given me an ability to tell the story of my people. I remember I was…not struggling…but I wanted to do the scene in episode three justice when I get pulled over. I had been in an altercation with police a few months before but I didn’t feel like it would connect me enough with the storyline and so I wanted to do more research on what it’s like to be confronted by police. I spoke with a friend of my mom’s who had several altercations with police, and he told me a story about where he was just in a Chinese restaurant getting his food and a few police officers just came in. They were clearly intoxicated and just started beating him. He was in the hospital for days trying to recover. No one was prosecuted for it; it was never brought up again. It was one of those situations that are just swept under the rug. I think that story really helped me connect with that moment and the knowledge that I can tell his story through the medium of film, and to tell the story of so many others like that is a gift that I don’t know how to express in words how meaningful it is.”

On What He Hopes Viewers Take Away From the Limited Series:

Jaden Michael: “I hope viewers can come to respect Colin for his sacrifice and for his bravery and courage to stand up for something greater than himself. I hope that the audience can take that away for themselves, just learning to trust their power, trust their Blackness, or trust their influence and be confident in their ability to positively influence change.”