Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” is edgy and memorable for more ways than one. My first impression with the trailer was, “Oh, no. This is risky.” I thought that we didn’t need another film full of racial stereotypes or a continuation of the YouTube rants like “Sh*t that white girls say” to add to this mess of society that we already live in. But then I realized, this is exactly what we needed. It challenges racism to the extent of putting the topic on Front Street and tells Americans who think there is no more racism to think again. The film mirrors a 1980s Spike Lee joint, where the prevalence of race is in your face–whether you like it or not.
The Ivy League, Winchester University, is a battleground for racial tension between blacks and the whites originating from the debate about Armstrong/ Parker Hall that used to house only black students is now desegregating. This made the campus attractive to a producer who wanted to shoot a reality show there because of the complex characters that attended. Biracial media major Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) felt the need to overcompensate one race over another. Her controversial radio show called “Dear White People” hints at her radical, new-aged Black Panther movement that encompasses her bottled-up anger and hatred toward whites.
“Dear White People the number of black friends to have to not seem racists has just been raised to two,” Sam announced over the radio waves. “Dear White People: Stop dancing.”
This gossip sparks interest from the black newspaper reporter Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) who is trying to make an impact on a predominately white newspaper.
Colandrea “CoCo” Conners (Teyonah Parris) was the chocolate-skinned girl who didn’t feel beautiful in her own skin, which is why she needed the long straight weave, blue contacts and preppy clothes to fit in with the white students of her class. Troy (Brandon Bell), the handsome son of the Dean of Students struggled with the pressures of being this perfect black man and avoiding becominga mere negative statistic while being in competition with the university president’s son, Kurt (Kyle Gallner).
The racial tensions and rivalries reach a boiling point at a campuses race-themed Halloween party on campus. When the black student arrived to the party full of white students with their faces painted brown, rap music blasting and wearing baggy clothes, even I felt uncomfortable in the theatre.
“Is this really what everyone thinks of when they think of African-Americans?”
It was disturbing how there was so much truth in this. Dating back, there have been race-themed campus parties across the United States including the “Compton Cook-Out” party held at University of California, San Diego in 2010. UCSD students through a party mocking Black History Month and invited students to wear gold jewelry, sport baggy athletic clothes, and eat watermelon.
The underlying realness that Simien portrays in this satire is eye-opening to the actions that happen and words that are said today in what some might call a “post-racism” time. Even though the film has comedic relief, this is still a controversial topic to cover and Simien executed it well. A film like this is needed in today’s society as a wake-up call: “Hello! There are still race issues in this world!” The movie was smart, witty and funny, which is hard to do.