Dear White People: Please Take Note—Movie

Dear White People” is an insightful, humorously satirical look at race relations in today’s society and is an amazing feature-film debut for the film’s writer and director, Justin Simien. Set on the fictional campus of Winchester University, a stand-in for any one of America’s Ivy League Colleges, the movie has something for everyone to mull over…good and bad.

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“Dear White People” begins with news coverage of a racial disturbance at a campus Halloween party and then goes back in time to the beginning of the semester to show how the school reached that point of tension. We’re introduced to several characters with differing views on race and politics who guide us on our journey through the rest of the movie. Sam White (Tessa Thompson) has a radio show, Dear White People, in she calls out white people for the ways in which they handle day-to-day encounters with black people. Regardless of your race, you laugh because her pointed comments are spot-on. Colandrea ‘Coco’ Conners (Teyonah Parris) is smart, beautiful, has a less successful video blog than Sam’s show and desperately wants to be part of a reality program about college life that might be in the offing. Downplaying her Chicago South Side roots, she puts on airs and attitude that she believes will lead to her success. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell) is the politically minded student, careful not to rock the boat. His father, the Dean of Students (Dennis Haysbert), is equally politically correct and engaged in his own power struggles with the University President, a former college classmate and rival. Rounding out the student foursome is Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), an aspiring journalist, with one of the largest Afros ever seen. He is struggling to fit in somewhere…anywhere. Campus life gets a jolt when Sam enters the race for president of her all-black dorm, challenging the incumbent, Troy, and to everyone’s shock, including her own, wins. Her candidacy has been promoted and pushed by the Black Student Union, led by the more militant student leader, Reggie (Marque Richardson). Pressed by Reggie to be more extreme, Sam takes some actions that she comes to question. Those actions and the white Halloween party with horrible, racial overtones are what propel much of the film’s movement forward.

Tyler James Williams as Lionel is terrific. He so beautifully portrays the character who “isn’t black enough” to fit within either racial group. This actor doesn’t say a lot, but his expressive face speaks volumes for him. He seems to be the film’s heart and what a beat it has. Perhaps “Dear White People’s” conscience is Sam and Tessa Thompson really does her justice. She does a fantastic job in portraying someone who’s not as self-assured as she seems. Brandon P. Bell is great as Troy. At first meeting, Troy seems to be a stand-in for a young Barrack Obama. But as the film progresses, we learn that there is more to his character. Is he fulfilling his dream or someone else’s? Teyonah Parris as Coco is truly fabulous. Her character is not very likeable in her phoniness, but she makes you care anyway. Dennis Haysbert as the Dean, Kyle Gallner as Kurt,the white son of the University President and Justin Dobies as Gabe, a friend of Sam’s, are also very good in supporting roles. Haysbert brings a lot of depth of his character and makes one wonder why we haven’t see more of him on the screen.

In addition to the very likeable cast, what makes this film so much fun to watch is its “smarts.” “Dear White People” gets its points across, and shows how no one or nothing is all black or all white. Some of the film’s lines are positively classic. When one white character asks his black girlfriend if she was “dreaming Cosby—straight hair and big sweaters,” you can’t help but laugh. And when someone else comments that “Bill Maher is going to f***k you up,” you know exactly what he means.

As noted earlier, “Dear White People” raises some interesting questions, chief among them—“What is free speech vs. racism?” We don’t get answers to many of the questions, but “Dear White People” does get one thinking…in a non-threatening manner. That just might be half the battle.

3 ½ nuggets out of 4

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