You know those friends who say there’s no such thing as white privilege, and that we’re living in a post-race society? Do yourself a favour and take them to see “Dear White People.”
Story by Rumnique Nannar.
Dear White People is one of those rare indie gems that had fans even before it hit the screen. As a product of our social-media age, Simien created an enticing viral campaign to raise funds on Indiegogo, complete with a fantastic trailer and video-PSAs for proper etiquette and laughing at black names. The film released in the USA on Oct 17, and is now playing for a short engagement in Vancouver and Toronto.
Thankfully, the film is as satirical as I was hoping it would be, and then some. The film follows four students as they navigate the fictional and prestigious Winchester University: Sam (Tessa Thompson), radio host of the titular show and campus revolutionary; Lionel (Tyler James Williams), the gay nerd who is a social misfit in all groups; Troy (Brandon P. Bell). the dean’s son who would rather write jokes than go to law school; and Coco (Teyonah Parris), a reality star-wannabe who denies her black roots. Power dynamics and betrayal play out in the two set-pieces of the film: a student election between Troy and Sam at their black residence hall, and the racist theme party hosted by the humour magazine, which erupts into an escalating riot and brilliant finale.
Writer-director Justin Simien retains the energy that hooked us in the trailer, but takes his time to flesh out the characters as they struggle with their identities and race on a predominately white campus. He makes a few missteps with Troy, who seems a bit like an addendum and breaks the flow of the movie, as his storyline isn’t as compelling as the others. However, the film gets the best from Thompson, who captures Sam’s implosive rage and heartbreak as a biracial student; and Williams, who quietly leads the film with his subtlety and bemused looks. You end up rooting for these characters with their inner complexity that’s hard to find in modern films dealing with race. They’re also actors that don’t choke on the heavy dialogues and speeches, and it feels less didactic due to their ease.
The film has the brashness of early Spike Lee, but Simien finds his own groove by giving the jokes time to land. One standout line by Sam is: “Dear White People, please stop touching my hair. Does this look like a petting zoo to you?”
Dear White People is fresh and incisive, and crammed full of the buried hipster racism faced by black millennials, and the false post-racial ideal. These issues are made human through the lively characters who set aside their posturing and get real about who they love, and not having to choose a label.