“Dear White People”
By: Nikki Abban
“Racism doesn’t exist in America,” says nobody ever. On the contrary, “Dear White People” reminds us that President Fletcher (Peter Syvertsen) isn’t the only one who thinks this way. “Dear White People” is a satirical fiction film about a group of black Ivy League college students and the racism and discrimination they deal with on a daily basis. For those who may think this film is only something black people can enjoy, think again.
This film does a great job of blending issues of race, sexuality and college life, which makes it relatable to many. The introductory freeze frame photos of the various cliques at Winchester University is the college equivalent of Janis Ian’s breakdown of North Shore High’s cafeteria in Mean Girls. In this moment you’ll be saying to yourself,“This is so true.”
Our main character, Sam White (Tessa Thompson), is the 2014 version of a black panther and her radio show “Dear White People” never lets her white classmates forget that. We love Sam’s sassy moments on her radio broadcast such as, “Dear white people, the minimum number of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised two.”
She also isn’t afraid to fight for what she believes in. The spoiled and cocky, Kurt Fletcher (Kyle Gallner), feels the wrath of Sam White when he asks her the silly question, “Why isn’t there a ‘Dear White People’?” After berating him in front of everyone, Sam becomes a hero for all the black students in the film and the audience members watching the film. In a perfect world we could have a Sam White reaction to that one ignorant person who speaks without tact.
Along with Sam, many of the other characters represent a different type of black person. We have Coco Conners who seems to fall under the category of being an “Oreo” a term (perpetuated by the white and black community) that describes a black person who is black on the outside and white on the inside.
We also have Sophie Fletcher (Brittany Curran), who according to Sam is only dating Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell) to piss off her parents. We can’t assume that this is the case, but we do know that Sophie likes Troy’s “big black cock.” Shaking my head. Even though some of these characters function mostly as a stereotype, it must be acknowledged that there are plenty of the characters are multidimensional.
When you are not laughing hysterically or cringing at lines like, “My afro is a black hole for white people’s hands,” the breathtaking cinematography in this film will captivate you. The beautiful lighting, soft focus effects, and the soundtrack featuring the underground musical talents of Kilo Kish, Mibbs and Andy Allo all highlight the auterism of thirty-one year old director Justin Simien. With talent like this, it is no surprise that Simien is on Variety Magazine’s “10 Directors to Watch” list.
It has been a while since we’ve seen Everybody Hates Chris star Tyler James Williams, but he is back and did not fail to impress. Sophomore Lionel Higgins is the underdog of the film who is awkward, nerdy, gay and can’t quite find where he fits in at Winchester University. Having a young black male in mainstream media playing a gay character without being overdramatized is a wonderful thing to watch.
Simien includes a kissing scene with Lionel and his crush that is unheard of in most films geared to the African American demographic. In America, some black men have their reservations about homosexuality on and off screen. Thus, the African-American man in my theatre who dramatically exclaimed, “Chris why?!” after Lionel’s kissing scene was not much of a shock. He seemed to not only be holding on to character Chris from Tyler James Williams’ previous gig, but also holding on to a mentality that is rather outdated.
Dear White People is a film that gives a relevant and spot on depiction of subtle and not so subtle acts of racism that occurs in modern day America. Thank God this film was not another 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained; I don’t think the white audience goers could handle feeling the guilt of slavery all over again. I do wonder if the Halloween party scene that shows white students dressed up as black stereotypes is enough to have the racist white Americans change their ways.
These frequent instances of disrespect and cultural appropriation of minority groups may not be as disturbing as putting a slave in a hot box, but it’s still pretty fucked up. For those who watch this movie and don’t get it because they believe our country is post racial or that minorities are not really suffering, in the words of Sam White, “never mind.”