Film Review: Dear White People


Directed by Justin Simien

Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams & Kylie Gallner

Dear White People is one of the best debuts of recent years and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Although it has been out in the US for nearly a year now, and finally being released in the UK this summer, it’s one of the few films that might get better with each viewing when one considers its representation of racial tension in the Obama era.The film follows several students at Winchester University. One of which is Sam White (Thompson), a film major who causes an uproar by hosting a local campus radio broadcast called ‘Dear White People’ that confronts white people and their pre-conceived notions of black people based on stereotypes and negative portrayals in the media. This does not sit well with many of the students, nor the Dean and the President of Winchester. This leads to a growing amount of racial tension among the students who not only start to challenge how they perceive others but how they view themselves.

Everybody involved, especially the cast, should be on every ‘up and coming’ list. However, the biggest star of the film is writer/director Justin Simien. Many have discussed how well Simien has managed to handle the subject matter, which is rather taboo Hollywood territory, in his debut film. However, very few have commented on how or possibly why he’s been able to achieve such a difficult task that even the most experienced of filmmakers would find hard to explore. Simien’s film does not solely deal with race but rather identity and how one affects the other. Close-ups, direct questions to the audience and literary devices all add up to a good mix of cinematic and theatrical elements while referencing contemporary filmmaking influences.

Simien’s script is full of pop culture references delivered in a quick fire Family Guy type manner but all are essential to appeal to its core audience. Thankfully this aspect does not completely restrict its potential audience either. Although many will probably point towards Spike Lee’s work as an inspiration, especially regarding the fluid camera movements, the film has more a seventies New Hollywood approach in the spirit of Paul Schrader’s brutal masterpiece Blue Collar and Sidney Lumet’s early work. The beautifully framed shots consist of relentless warm colours and the welcoming melodramas of complicated relationships are reminiscent of Douglas Sirk films.Simien, like most successful directors tackling coming-of-age issues, refuses to treat his viewers like anything else but adults. All the characters are treated like main characters and one never gets the sense that the audience are being manipulated to like or hate somebody. To put it simply, Simien is just telling it like it is.A film like this had to be made. So many films tend to tackle social issues and attempt to sway the audience to think a certain way, rather than just simply presenting the issues then letting the audience come to their own conclusion while upholding a strong set of ideologies. The film is an uncomfortable and so it should be. Unlike other comedies dealing with serious subject matter, it doesn’t forget the fact that one of its main purposes is to make you laugh. It is also sad because it reminds us of the ugly truths in the world that we all experience. Ultimately it is triumphant because it portrays all these elements and doesn’t laugh at the expense of anybody. Yet the most effective device occurs during the closing credits when real pictures are shown of college parties, which are the basis to the climax of the film.  Dear White People is satire at its best and most importantly thought-provoking too.4/5­­­­


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