Racism in modern America: it’s kind of like when your mom keeps nagging you to clean your room; you get really annoyed even though you know it’s still messy, and you keep saying you’ll fix it up tomorrow. But rather than being the stubborn, whiny teenager we’re used to, Dear White People uses a refreshingly honest voice to tell us it’s time to clean up.
In his debut film, director Justin Simien highlights a lot of the issues young black Americans face today and uses the different characters as tools to show how continuing stereotypes, even ones meant as compliments, are detrimental to their cultural identity.
The movie focuses on four very different black students at the fictional Ivy League school Winchester University. It navigates their interwoven lives smoothly, switching focus between the academic, wannabe white daddy’s boy Troy; the scared-of-black-kids gay guy Lionel; and the mid-crisis, wishes-she-were-ghetto Coco, using all of their situations to show how complex being “black” has become in American culture today.
The main character is Sam White (Tessa Thompson, For Colored Girls), a half white-half black activist who hosts her own radio show titled, as the movie is, “Dear White People.” She runs for head of her traditionally black dorm against (and to spite) her ex-boyfriend—the aforementioned daddy’s boy, Troy—and ends up winning. Her new goal? To stop the randomizing of housing at Winchester so that black students can continue to choose to live with their peers in that hall.
The characters and the situations—made extreme in the movie, which may come off too strong to some—are what really made the movie so impactful. Nobody wants to talk about racism anymore, people want to pretend that it’s not an issue at all, and by throwing it at us full force in this compositionally sound and intelligently written movie, people can’t help but listen and react.
My only problem with the movie is that it seemed like it was trying pretty hard to take up time. At 108 minutes, it really wasn’t that long, although some scenes and shots seemed like they were dragging on for an unnecessary amount of time or simply repeating things that had already been said. But with some Wes Anderson-esque cinematography, a carefully picked soundtrack, and a crew of talented actors, there was intrigue in even the most redundant scenes.