The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
Dear White People (Lionsgate)
Written & Directed by Justin Simien
Dear White People is the first film from a talented director. Surprisingly, I liked it even though it involves two of my least favorite elements. I hate college films. I hate films about colleges and films made in college and this film is both of those. I also hate films whose only reason for being is to talk about race relations. Not historical movies where people’s views on race are a big part of the history or the time, but movies that try to discuss race relations in the now. It’s one of the reasons that I dislike most of Spike Lee’s movies (Except for X and Mo Better Blues). So I should hate Dear White People because of these two things. But this first-time director, Justin Simien, does such a great job with the story and the characters and the relationships and the actors that I was too busy liking the film to be mad at it. Dear White People, underneath all the race stuff, is actually a good movie.
Dear White People is a socially and politically charged, college comedy based on the stories of real costume parties thrown at prestigious universities that featured white students dressing up in black-face, having hip-hop or ghetto themed, racially insensitive fun. This happens too often in our society; Stupid kids doing stupid things (as always I blame the parents). Dear White People deals with one of those parties, the reaction, the aftermath and the racial tensions on campus. Showing differences in the black student’s views on race and of course black hair. Hair is always a big theme in black movies.
The story of Dear White People follows four college students at the same Ivy-league university with completely different views on race and race relations: A young woman with a radio show that I have to describe as “of mixed race” because a story this polluted with racial politics demands that I do. Her show is called Dear White People and it’s a tongue-in-cheek discussion of the mistakes that some white folks can make when dealing with people of color. There is also a young gay black male journalist with very few friends but a serious Afro. A pretty black girl with a desire for fame, a YouTube following and a video blog about her struggles with racial identity. And the privileged son of the university dean. These are good characters and some good performances for a student film… for a college film… for a film about a college.
Justin Simien’s directing style in Dear White People reminds me of a cross between Wes Anderson and Spike Lee. And I love this combination for obvious reasons. It has serious potential and I hope he keeps this style going ahead. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next. Dear White People is a good movie because of the skills of its director and because of the likability of its attractive young cast, even while it is a difficult film because of the misguided nature and political views of all of its young characters.
Dear White People is a difficult film to review for me because it is essentially one big argument about race relations. And while I have my views, I recognize that others have their views and that no view is the correct view (not even mine), while many, in my opinion, are the wrong view. When someone’s view orders other people to dress, to speak, to act, to do things their way, that’s what I consider wrong. Follow your philosophy. But as soon as it infringes on someone else’s freedom, there’s a problem. It’s a personal relationship with the divine and society. Stop worrying about what the next person is doing. Stop trying to be right in the eyes of other people and be right with yourself. See what I mean. I can’t review movies like this without getting up on my soapbox high-horse. (a high horse with a soapbox on top of it).
I’m almost done. There are seven billions different views on race. Just like there are seven billion different views on sex and religion and there are seven billion different combinations of personal prejudice and passion. And I’m tired of stories that try to tell us there are only two. Another thing I like about Dear White People is that it doesn’t present the world as black and white (I mean contrast, not race). And because of this nuance it didn’t annoy me as much as I thought it might. In fact it was funny and fun. However, I’m still saying Dear White People is difficult to review and may be difficult to watch, because even while it is a comedy, the subject is volatile and polarizing. And if racial politics are upsetting to you or if you’re just tired of hearing about it, then I would suggest avoiding White People. But that would be sad because it’s actually an enjoyable, low-budget comedy. Pretty funny. Kind of sexy at times. And very well-made.
But in the end, Dear White People says more about dumb college students of every race than it says specifically about black people, white people and race relations.