Written and directed by Justin Simien, “Dear White People” targets issues of racial stereotypes with both humor and drama. The movie takes place on a predominantly white fictional Ivy League campus named Winchester University and weaves together several story threads of black students traversing through the underhanded racism of campus politics and everyday college student struggles.
The film features a somewhat large cast, including Sam White (Tessa Thompson), the outspoken host of the black-centric radio station from which the film takes its name; Troy (Brandon P. Bell), the clean cut and ambitious son of the school’s dean (Dennis Haysbert); Coco (Teyonah Parris), a black student who rejects Sam and the other students of color; and Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a gay nerd who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, but proves to be a key player later in the film.
There’s also the ridiculously racist–but believable-Kurt (Kyle Gallner), who is the editor of the school’s humor magazine, head of his all white house and, shockingly, the son of the university’s president.
There’s a lot going on in each of these characters’ lives, and each storyline holds some sense of self-discovery, which is the primary focus. Although there are some moments in which these characters are reciting different sections of a college thesis, overall, the film’s sharp satire and critique make “Dear White People” funny, smart and insightful.
Most of the film’s most entertaining moments come from the retorts, judgments or witty one-liners exchanged between characters, especially if they’re from Sam, who has plenty to say after her encounters with occasional racism. However, the comedy in the film is more subtle than direct.
Although the story is a little thin at times, the plot builds toward a disgusting climax, an annual Halloween party that Kurt’s magazine throws every year.
For this year’s theme, they decide to retaliate against Sam and her black friends by throwing a “Hip Hop” party, resulting in cultural appropriation; white kids wear blackface and drink purple “drank,” wear gold jewelry and XXXL t-shirts (this is actually something that happens very often; the film’s end credits show many headlines and horrific photos of colleges all around the country doing this very thing).
The overarching themes outshine the narrative in “Dear White People,” and that’s okay, because it works. The film offers a sharp, witty analysis of race relations in America today, something that many in this day and age aren’t seeing as much as they should (I’m looking at you, Bill O’Reilly).
Unfortunately, this movie only received a limited release, so it’s not playing everywhere, however, Pacific’s Black Student Union is working to get the film to screen here on campus sometime in February, and if they are successful, I highly encourage all to see it.
“Dear White People” serves not to silence conversations revolving around the issues of race, but to welcome them. A 9 out of 10.