Wednesday, October 15, 2014

'Dear White People,' A Love Letter To The Races

By Darlene Donloe

Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a smart, witty and satirical in-your-face movie about racism on a fictional college campus.

Presented with elements of comedy to allow the medicine to go down smoothly, Simien pulls back the curtain on some stereotypes that have plagued black people for centuries and the questions whites have about everything from why black people don’t swim to the $60 million question about why white people like to touch black hair.  Don’t do it, says one character in the film, ‘it’s inappropriate.’

Simien’s debut feature is a cautionary tale about pre-conceived notions and the accompanied consequences.

It’s a slippery slope when blacks and whites have conversations about the other’s culture. Both sides try their best not to offend the other by appearing racist, out of touch, completely ignorant or too nosey.

If nothing else, Dear White People, which won prizes at the Sundance and San Francisco film festivals, is an ice-breaker that can lead to meaningful conversations about race and race relations.

The film takes place at Winchester University, a fictional, racially charged campus.  It’s there that division amongst the races takes place even down to the student’s living quarters.  The campus is divided between them and them over there. Those in between need to choose sides.

The film follows the stories of four black students, one of whom is Samantha White, (Tessa Thompson) a mixed race student who leads the college’s traditionally black residence in a militant stand against housing assignments. Oh, and she’s also secretly dating a white classmate. Oh, and she runs a college radio show called, ‘Dear White People.’  Samantha uses her power of the airwaves to expose the cultural differences of the students.   She loves to taunt the Caucasian persuasion with statements like, ‘not including weed dealers, the number of black friends required of a white student to not seem racist has been raised to two.’ And there’s a lot more where that came from.

White doesn’t pull any punches. She lets white people have it with full barrels.   Just what does it mean to be black? What is the black experience and why is everyone trying to become a part of it, while at the same time showing disdain for the proprietors of the experience? Why must black people wear their blackness on their sleeves on a daily basis?

Tyler James Williams (foreground)

Then there’s Troy (Brandon P. Bell), the strait-laced son of the school dean (Dennis Haysbert). Coco (Teyonah Parris) wants desperately to be a reality TV star, while Lionel (Tyler James Williams), the shy gay observer, would just like to fit in.

The story gets going when a riot breaks out over a popular “unleash your inner Negro” themed party thrown by a white fraternity.

No white people were harmed in the making of this movie!!

Kudos to Simien and everyone involved with Dear White People.

Dear White People is written, directed and produced by Justin Simien. The film stars Tyler James Williams (“Everybody Hates Chris,” Peeples), Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls, “Veronica Mars”), Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, CBGB), Teyonah Parris (“Mad Men,” They Came Together), Brandon P. Bell (“Hollywood Heights”), Malcolm Barrett (The Hurt Locker), Brittany Curran (“Chicago Fire”), Marque Richardson (“The Newsroom”) and Dennis Haysbert (“24,” Far From Heaven).

Rated R: for language, sexuality and drug use; Running time: 108 min.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Dear White People gets an O (oh, yeah).

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