Why Won’t Rachel Dolezal Go Away?

So, yeah. Rachel Dolezal has a new documentary coming out on Netflix, “The Rachel Divide.” Cue gag reflex. My eyebrows legit met my hairline when I saw this story.

I thought about it, but ultimately I can’t get my back into a blog denouncing Netflix as a heretic for airing this misguided pathetic-ness. At the end of the day the company is deep in the content game, and they’re playing to win, God bless them. They know full well that a ton of people are gonna watch the film out of curiosity – or to have a reason to troll and go on heated, racist, Internet rants.

For them, there’s no moral right or wrong. They don’t care about the substance – or lack thereof – of her issues. They’re likely supremely unbothered by the barrage of insults that go hand in hand with her existence/story. They care about views, advertising, clicks, publicity. They’re courting our attention, and they’ve hired Academy Award-winner Ross Williams to help get it. Williams executive produced the film, which will premiere at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival beginning April 18.

Nor can I in good conscience devote another blog to a vitriolic denouncement of her character. There’s no need to reiterate my disgust at her behavior, audacity and the reality that she’s still somehow been allowed to remain in the public eye. She should – by all that’s decent and holy – be living in shame and squalor in a hovel in some remote part of nowhere, her face never to be seen again.

I suppose I could comment on how sad I find this announcement, the fact that someone’s devoting resources to sharing any part of this woman’s story. I read one article and watched a few clip videos, and the feelings they evoked are not unlike what I imagine it feels like to be subjected to a strange, subtle form of torture.

Think of someone running a cheese grater over your hand again and again. You won’t die from it. It might not even hurt that bad, at first. But with pressure, the welts rise. It bleeds a little, then when it heels, they do it again. It’s annoying as hell, the pain builds, and it scars.

But instead I thought I’d offer up three ways you can tell if you need to stop and step back from the limelight.

1.    Everyone hates you. If everyone thinks you’re an idiot, all – and I do mean all – your press is bad, and you’ve been unilaterally branded delusional, it would be wise to step back from media coverage and carefully consider your next move. That move likely should include some professional assistance. Hopefully therapy, and most certainly some rebranding.

But I doubt Dolezal is capable of being rational. If she was rational I wouldn’t be writing about her because she never would have happened. She seems like your garden variety media whore. She wants a payday, and she wants attention, and sadly, people like me – and companies like Netflix – are giving it to her.

2.    Your current media activity or near future plans have no long-term value. I don’t know Dolezal’s long term plans. She could be a media mastermind with a plan to – gah. I don’t wanna waste my time thinking that deeply about any plans she might be hatching. But anyone with even half a brain and a drop of emotional intelligence or self-preservation would have taken their cues from an avalanche of public outrage, and the wholesale dismantling of your entire career, and rethought any plans to discuss on film the very same issue that landed you in the shitter to begin with.

To be fair, I haven’t seen the documentary. It may not be the litany of whiny, half-ass excuses and limp, nonsensical justifications I predict it will be. But whenever you have a media crisis, you have to tread carefully. Last I heard of the woman she was hawking synthetic hair. So, ideally any move she makes at this point should improve her personal and professional prospects.

3.    The people close to you are begging you to spare them. Very few people are so alone in the world that their actions affect no one. Most people have family, children, for instance, who could suffer because of their dodgy behavior.

Dolezal’s son Franklin has openly expressed his desire for her to let it go, to just let the whole thing fade away – join the club, buddy. In a clip he actually displays more media savvy than his mother when he says that the media is not something anyone should play with unless you embrace its potential to bite you in the ass. And the media hasn’t just bitten Dolezal in her ass, it’s already chewed her to mince and then spit her out with contempt. The world knows she’s a liar and is fairly evenly split between thinking she’s crazy and thinking she’s disgusting. I have one foot in both camps with my upper body leaning into the farcical.

I feel for the kid. He’s right on the money in that her behavior will have long lasting repercussions on him and not in a positive way. Unfair as it is, people will judge him based on her behavior. Every move he makes from here on in will be scrutinized, judged and reported, and all of that without his consent.

He didn’t choose to be a part of this particular media circus. He’s made it clear he doesn’t want it, and it’s equally clear that with her trademark self-absorption she has completely disregarded his point of view. Still, he’s in it. Poor thing.

I’m wholly in favor of telling personal stories, female stories about unusual lives. And seriously, Dolezal’s story has just as much right to be told as anyone else’s regardless of how unappealing I find it. But the idea of a documentary is just so gross. When you think about it, it’s kind of funny that Dolezal will appear in a documentary as opposed to, say, a short film. A documentary is based on a factual record or report. So, this is essentially a factual account of a completely fabricated life and identity.


The medium seems to lend her a gravitas she doesn’t deserve. Of course, that’s just my opinion. I suppose one can learn something from almost anything, even if it’s only what not to do, and this is early days. We have more than a month before the film drops and is available to the public. It will be interesting to see how the publicity machine rolls this thing out. Maybe there’s another lesson forthcoming?


“The Rachel Divide” will stream on Netflix beginning April 27.

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