Apple docuseries ‘DEAR…’ opens pathways to needed conversations, having empathy

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

DEAR…

Not rated, about 286 minutes across 10 episodes.
Available Friday to stream on Apple TV Plus.

In these days of social upheaval, we’re looking for ways that we can improve, help and support. The rage and frustrations at systemic racism are not just a week, a month or a year old. It’s centuries in the making. To meaningfully contribute to the movement, people need to educate themselves beyond school textbooks. There are racist and socioeconomic inequities that taint our environment and allow these injustices to thrive.

The new Apple TV Plus docuseries Dear… is a beautifully realized work that is the “some good news” that we could all use and learn from right now. Produced by Emmy-winning filmmaker R.J. Cutler, the 10-part project profiles inspiring figures using a cinematic technique that involves sharing letters written by people whose lives were touched by these luminaries. 

On the surface, it may sound a bit tone-deaf to watch a self-congratulatory exercise that features celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Spike Lee, Misty Copeland, Aly Raisman and Sesame Street’s Big Bird reading fan mail. However, the series isn’t as much about spotlighting the stars as it is the incredible people they inspired. Dear… aims to showcase the legitimate contributions these public-facing individuals made to the world by setting examples with their careers. Each of these stories uniquely shares how love and dedication have the power to overcome bigotry. The proof radiates with a force that will hit you right in the heart. 

It’s difficult not to get a mad case of the gulps when the father of a child battling cancer talks about how the music from Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton saved her life. As the camera pushes in on the father reading the letter in a hospital (to put the audience truly in the moment), the episode cuts to Miranda reading the letter with a quivering lip as the father says, “All I wanted to do was take my daughter’s pain away and couldn’t, but you could. You gave her joy in the hardest time in her life. As her father, I can’t tell you what that means to me.” 

Dear… is no doubt an emotional rollercoaster. The pain and suffering that these individuals endured (both the stars and the people they inspired), packs a tear-filled wallop. Have a box of tissues handy for every installment – especially when Oprah Winfrey provides the tools for an African student to succeed in her education, or young climate change advocates marching after being moved by Jane Goodall’s life-long commitment to the animal kingdom – but these journeys are far from cold. You watch as people overcome impossible obstacles. As feminist icon and activist Gloria Steinem states near the conclusion of her chapter: “I am not passing the torch to someone else. I am igniting other people’s torches.” 

These bold, informative and well filmed entries serve as an overdue tonic for an environment that has long been held down by incomplete depictions, even as expectations evolve. It’s certainly timely in light of what’s been happening around the world in recent days. Engage it, and allow it to heal the pain and lighten a flame to move towards a better future. Society cracks open with a shared experience.

Grade: A

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.