Dear White People Review: New Wave Racism

Photo Credit:

Dear White People kind of plays like a less cute, less musical version of the number “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the long-running Broadway show Avenue Q. It makes a lot of racist jokes, but ultimately gives you an idea of the tricky manner in which we stay “politically correct” in 2014.

The film satirizes the fact that sometimes it can feel like walking a tightrope with what we should and shouldn’t say to people of various ethnic backgrounds. We follow four black students at a fictional Ivy League school as they try to figure out what is and isn’t appropriate. The title comes from a radio host named Sam (Tessa Thompson) that makes seemingly random announcements always preceded with “Dear white people.” Then there’s Lionel (Tyler James Williams), an out journalist that describes his hairdo as a “black hole for white fingers.” We also have student politician Troy (Brandon P. Bell) and aspiring YouTube star Coco (Teyonah Parris).

These four intersect but all have different roles to play in the national newsworthy event that kills the university’s publicity at the end of the film. But before the climax, Dear White People is light on plot, instead choosing to let its characters discuss their role in the community and how others see them.

But this isn’t a story that segregates its satire by race. No one is safe in this skewering of a generation not used to being told that their actions are racist. Sam and Lionel have particularly strong arcs, but where we leave Troy and Coco by the end rightfully indicates that the film’s “resolution” won’t fix racism.

Instead, this film intends to educate you on the forms of racism that might not be so obvious. When Lionel’s editor starts kissing him, he says “I could eat you like a Hershey’s.” Something meant to be so flattering ended up being so overtly racist because Lionel was being fetishized by a guy who likes black guys.

Sometimes the dialogue is a bit on the nose and some of the young actors aren’t quite capable of carrying such heady material as smoothly as they could have, but Dear White People is still really successful in what it’s trying to do. The climax is surprisingly intense for what it ends up being, justifying the slow build to the crescendo. Overall, it’s a very satisfying movie that sheds light on racism against every color. That, in many ways, makes it pretty progressive, which is welcome in an era where films like 12 Years a Slave win Best Picture thanks to white guilt. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *