It’s a sad fact that the black community is severely underrepresented in Hollywood and filmmaking. With only old hats like Spike Lee and Tyler Perry being said to market the majority of their films to the black community, it falls to a new generation of black filmmakers to make movies for the underrepresented. Does Dear White People start a new trend of catering to the target demographic?
Dear White People stars Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Brandon Bell and Dennis Hasybert and is written, produced and directed by Justin Simien. The story follows Sam White (Thompson) at Winchester University, where her radio show “Dear White People” starts to raise race tensions amongst the students and the staff.
First off, Dear White People is one of the newest and funniest films I’ve seen this year. Don’t be fooled, it’s not a haha, laugh-out-loud funny. Instead it is a deeply smart and commentary, steeped in pop culture and referencing recent racially insensitive media events. As a film student I got most enjoyment from the repeated jokes about film, with small conversations devoted to what can be considered a “black” film, aversions to Tarantino, a sly updating of the racist 1916 film Birth Of A Nation and a comparison of the film Gremlins to black culture. It’s a film that knows it’s history and how blacks were once and sometimes still are portrayed in mass media and sets out to change it.
While being a film mainly about race and racism, Dear White People picks up on a few more hot topics, including homophobia, class divides and nepotism. While the film sometimes isn’t able to fully flesh out these stories and instead goes into a small amount of clichés and caricatures (and including one that goes absolutely nowhere apart from one extra scene), the majority of the other themes are resoundingly brought in and out of the film expertly. These four themes each have their own central character and worldview and the film seamlessly switches between them all, and in the end manages to bring them all together for a third act finale which is actually inspired by true events, showcasing the ugly underside of racism that is still around today.
The film is not without it’s problems though. While the film is around the one hour fifty minutes mark (which is around the average length of a film in the 2010s), Dear White People for some reason feels a tad too over long and drawn out. There could be a number of reasons why the film feels overlong, but I think it just comes down to the film getting pulled around by many different characters. For example around the halfway point we start spending more time in the film with side characters that really aren’t anything more than a walking point-of-view, a symbolic representation of an argument or debate. This makes some of the characters look like 2D cardboard cutouts next to the main leads of the film, who actually have more rounded personalities and conflicting ideals. Another problem I had with Dear White People was the ending. While I understand it’s meaning and what the film was trying to say in it’s final few scenes, I did feel that it was rather hollow and tacked on, a forced “happy ending” that seemed to negate an earlier character arc and argument.
In summary, Dear White People is a refreshing film from a promising new director. It’s a film that manages to be ABOUT something and explores those issues, rather than being superficial like most other films that are based on a taboo subject. This is definitely not one to miss.
Score: 7/10 An intelligent, funny and sharp new voice in film.