Dear White People
Writer / Director Justin Simien's debut feature, Dear White People, is a hyper-literate and often intriguing satirical treatment of race appropriation and disgruntlement. It's not about "racism" really -- though one could sit through the entire film believing it is. To me, this artful movie is actually about racial fixations -- mostly among black folks. The film stars Tyler James Williams (best known for the comedy series Everybody Hates Chris) and Tessa Thompson as black students at the fictitious Winchester University, where a campus radio DJ named Sam White (Thompson) pokes and prods the majority white student body (the Dear White People of the title) and the university's administration with quizzical remarks and bon mots about racial identity and oppression. A budding, bushy-headed journalist named Lionel, (Williams) tries to infiltrate Sam's closed circle to tell her story but is blocked by his own tentative racial and sexual identity. Sam's latest crusade is a campaign by the university administration to abolish the tradition of resident houses that has allowed students to segregate themselves by race and class. Some of the black students, led by Sam, feel this threatens their already tenuous grip on healthy black consciousness and so they oppose it, framing it as more BS from the man. Others, most notably the blue-contact / fall-wig wearing beauty Coco (Teyonah Parris) and Troy (Brandon P. Bell), son of the dean of students (Dennis Haysbert) see the push for integration as a natural occurrence in Obama's evolving post-racial America. This movie has a lot on its mind and much to say but Simien, unlike Spike Lee, keeps the story from spinning out of control though the last act might frustrated some who, perhaps naively, want resolution to the weighty questions raised in the film. I'm not sure who the audience is for this insightful and imaginative work. I believe many blacks, and cosmopolitan whites, will find the politics espoused by the characters familiar while others might find a lot of the talk pedantic. I must say I was delighted to see so many young performers of color on the screen. Recommended.