Take a Drink: anytime someone says “Dear White People”
Take a Drink: for references to black artists (songwriters, directors, actors etc)
Drink a Shot: every time something feels racist (and probably is)
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) is a internet personality and student at Winchester University (a fictional Ivy League school). Her web series “Dear White People” is a venue for her to discuss and rant against campus social and political matters, particularly when it relates to race matters. She has just been elected President of a historically black resident house on campus, and wastes no time instituting her agenda. This puts her into conflict with neighboring houses, college administrators, and even some of her own friends. Samantha leads a group who protest race issues on campus.
As racial tensions on campus tighten, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams); an aspiring journalist and fellow student, faces his own struggles. Besides being black, he is also gay, and faces constant prejudice. Higgins’ writing attracts the attention of a campus paper, who bring him on to write a piece on campus race tensions. Meanwhile, a neighboring resident house plans a Black Stereotype-themed party, raising the stakes in an already difficult situation on campus.
There are those in modern America who live under the assumption that the war against racism and discrimination is over, or no longer a matter worth national attention. Stated clearly in writer/director Justin Simien’s directoral debut; the virus has simply evolved into a different strain. As discussed in great detail during our weekly Movieboozer.com Pubcast, the issue of American Prejudice has become a guerilla war, with numerous small factions fighting bitterly, without any clear united front, or end in sight.
Simien’s film is a character study exploring many of the daily battles fought by Black Americans to win true equality while preserving valuable cultural heritage. Most films about the Civil Rights struggle are historical, but by setting the film in the present, and using the real-world catalyst of “African American” themed parties on college campuses, the film gains a greater relevance.
The film is wonderfully shot, using creative cinematography and sharp editing to give the film a unique look which reflects the independent cinema movement of the 1980s in equal measure with French New Wave cinema of the 1950s-60s. This style perfectly complements the Ivy League setting. These elements are used to contrast with conventional “Urban” stereotypes of black culture, which are largely absent among the black students of Winchester University. In this respect, director Simien is cleverly playing with preconceived notions and audience expectations.
The core of the film are in the film’s principle cast, embodied in the characters of Samantha White and Lionel Higgins. To her part as Samantha Tessa Thompson brings a character who puts on a strong front in public, but in private has numerous personal struggles that make every day a new set of challenges. Lionel on the other hand (played by Tyler James Williams) is quite the opposite; an introverted, quiet public persona gives way to an affinity for expression in written form. Eventually both characters are pushed to their limits, as each has to deal with anger in their own ways.
The events of the film are seen mostly through their eyes, and they represent the yin and yang of the story.
The story leaves a handful of strands dangling at the end, which felt abrupt. Dear White People deftly addresses many under-recognized battlefronts of Civil Rights. So much so that the audience might feel overwhelmed on first viewing. I would like to have seen what the films various characters are doing a year now down the road; have they fallen back into their past habits, did the genuinely learn from their experiences? This does not seriously hamper the rest of the film, but does prevent it from becoming as great as it might otherwise have.
How does a modern internet-fueled culture deal with race relations? If the Civil Rights battle is over, why isn’t the war won? Did the battle ever end? All these questions and so much more are explored in this brilliant little film.