It’s 2014 and our country is becoming more and more progressive, thankfully. We’re seeing more equality across the board in all senses of the word, but we’re not quite at the finish line just yet. There is still racial tension present in our society, but it takes on a different form now than it did 50+ years ago. We may not be aware of our own contribution to prejudices, but we can learn and become more socially aware of what is and what isn’t socially acceptable. Many people have pre-judged this film based solely on its title and it’s those arrogant people whom this film should be viewed by, as well as everyone else. If you can’t take it in, don’t dish it out.
At a prestigious Ivy League University, four students are struggling with their identities as black students at a predominately white school. Samantha, or Sam (Tessa Thompson), runs the school’s only radio show entitled “Dear White People”, a show that calls out the subtle and not-so-subtle racist and classic things that all white people do. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend Troy (Brandon P Bell) is running to be the head of the black housing complex that’s at risk of become a randomized living space. His father, Dean (Dennis Haysbery), is the Vice President of the school and imposes his will and judgement upon Troy at all times.
Then there’s Colandrea ‘Coco’ Conners(Teyonah Parris), a wannabe actress who runs her own show on YouTube, but doesn’t receive the views she wants because she’s not “black enough”. Lastly, we have Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a light-skinned journalism major who also happens to be gay. As he struggles to find his place at this school, he comes in contact with these three other students and realizes that they’re all struggling with their identity and how they wish to be perceived, versus how they are perceived. Tensions mount as race issues come to the surface when Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner), the son of the school’s President (Peter Syvertsen), decides to throw a blackface party, in spite of all the tension on campus. Satire, hilarity, discomfort, and unfortunate truths come out as a result of the party.
Dear White People explodes off the screen with some of the smartest, most truthfully informative satire that’s representative of 21st century political thinking. This film is perfect for any politically informed member of society that has a basic understanding of racial discrimination and the stereotypical treatment that divides blacks from everyone else. With much to say and lots of evidence to support facts, Dear White People can be painfully funny to watch, as you’ve probably experienced/seen exactly what you’re hearing. With tremendous new talent backing the sharply smart dialogue, this film is as important as it is great and it’s certainly one of the standout experiences of the year.
First-time Writer/Director/Producer Justin Simien has really knocked it out-of-the-park with his first effort, as he effectively balanced two sides of a powerful argument that is still present today. Simien presents both sides with knee-jerk reactions and hard facts, perfectly encapsulating how we, as humans, react in real life to situations that make us uncomfortable. At times, Simien had me rolling in laughter when he was discussing stereotypes for black and white people. Other times, Simien had me cringing at just how devastatingly accurate portrayals and treatments of black people were. Being a white male, this film was very true to how I would be treated comparatively and I was more than enlightened to some of the other, under the surface struggles that anyone whom is black encounters.
Tessa Thompson is a force to be reckoned with, as this is her show through-and-through. She’s stellar as the button-pushing, eyebrow raising Sam, ultimately commanding the screen with her relentless effort. She’s perfectly representative of many well-educated activists in college who seek to make a difference in slightly unorthodox ways. The power in her words is tremendous and her execution and delivery leaves everyone’s mouths agape. Thompson also puts so much of herself into this character, evident in her range of emotion and fiery passion that she brings to the screen. She’s completely justified in her doings and perhaps she’s not always going about things in the best way, but at least she’s making an effort to do something. I’m very hopeful that Thompson will be landing some wonderful roles after more people see this film, because she is totally deserving of them. She’s stupendous!
Tyler James Williams plays a familiar character in attitude, but his emotional depth and insecurities are more present than they’ve been in other roles of his. Not only is he dealing with being mixed race and not fitting in, but he’s also gay and mixed race, which only makes him more of an outcast. He doesn’t belong anywhere and without picking sides, he just wants to fit in. It’s saddening to see him struggle, but he also makes you smile with his effort and dedication to doing what’s right. Brandon P Bell is strikingly good as Troy, as he has the burden of playing the black man who tries to fit in wherever he can. He can change his attitude when he needs to, he can be a different person based on the crowd, and he’s struggling to do what he wants, not what his father wants. Teyonah Parris is also really great, as she’s also having an identity crisis and is discovering the hard way that you don’t get fame by being yourself. She’s running from everything she despises about black culture and how it’s perceived, but that’s exactly what will get her what she wants.
More than anything, I really admired the brilliant discussion in this film. There are going to be many who look at this provocative title and deem it as “Racist” or “Blacks Targeting Whites”, but this film is not that at all. There’s so much internal conflict within the young black community, evident in the fact that “light-skin” and “dark-skin” are terms that blacks use to define each other. Mixed-race kids have it even worse, as they’re not sure if they even belong, according to Simien who is of mixed race. There’s also the negativity towards gay blacks and anyone who isn’t black doesn’t get this struggle. Never did I feel like this film was targeting me, or that it was saying that I’m racist. This film explores today’s youth, the effects of today’s culture, and how people are trying to stand-up on both sides.
Dear White People could be hard to discuss, but once you get past everything it has to say you can really get into the meat of what this film aims to get across. This isn’t some racist film that’s targeting whites for everything they did in the past (though many who haven’t even seen this film believe that to be true), but rather a commentary on our youth and how they handle their own culture, as well as another’s culture. There isn’t just prejudice/oppression coming from one race and this film makes sure to highlight that. Yes, there are still many white people who are purposefully or inadvertently racist or uneasy about making huge social changes, but there are also many blacks who go after each other as well. If anything, the biggest message I got from this film is that people need to be more open to all the political and social change that’s going on and despite how hard that may be, it will mean a lot to someone else who may be feeling targeted, whether you know it or not.
Dear White People Trailer