Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dear White People

*** out of ****

Like Do the Right Thing, Dear White People is an intelligent exploration of real race issues in today’s America, but discusses the sensitive material in the safety zone of satirical comedy with a slightly surreal detachment from reality.

First-time writer/director Justin Simien made a big impression with the film at this year’s Sundance film festival, winning a Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Talent. The attention is well deserved and people should be open to seeing it regardless of their ethnicity.

The reaction, “Why doesn’t someone make a ‘Dear Black People’?” has been uttered by certain white people upon hearing this film’s title. Didn’t D.W. Griffith make that film in 1915? Besides, the movie’s title is trying to stir things up all by itself. The actual movie is a reaction to the ridiculous denial that racism is still prevalent today, but its voice is not particularly angry.

The principal black characters do not share a common perspective on their racial identity while residing in a mostly-white fictional ivy-league university. They range from a female radio D.J. -with a militant nit-picky attitude, to a sheepish gay nerdy guy -who senses intolerance from his fellow black students but feels like a token in white circles. The story covers many issues, such as the dilution of minority culture on campus -through randomized housing and openly offensive activities happening in today's institutions of higher education -like primarily white fraternities hosting a blackface party. This movie could have gathered enough material for a TV series.

Although, a T.V. show wouldn't have the same richness. This movie doesn’t have the aimless ease of a series with episodes to follow. It’s a structured and well-shot feature with a hypnotic quality. It’s not a preachy movie. It’s communicating ideas and trying to make points. Some work and some are pathetic misfires.

The bratty university president's son may be the embodiment of white ignorance and bigotry in this film, but the idea that he runs a satirical publication with the respect of other witty writers in Ivy League academia, feels rather preposterous. These characters all represent ideas, but I feel like there's a missed opportunity in this character, to show the closeted racism of those who rationalize their tendency to exclude.

In my opinion, this is a welcome return to the kind of thought-provoking African American cinema that found a big multi-ethnic audience in the nineties.

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