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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Movie Review - Dear White People

Dear White People (2014)
Starring Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Brandon P Bell, Teyonah Parris, Kyle Gallner, and Dennis Haysbert
Directed by Justin Simien

While not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as I had thought it would be, Dear White People is a film that doesn't shy away from some uncomfortable racial humor in order to detail race relations on college campuses.  Set at the fictional Ivy League Winchester University, screenwriter-director Justin Simien's debut film shows that the sometimes "on edge" feeling between whites and blacks isn't the fault of either culture, but rather due to the fact that post-racial America has created a society where political correctness actually makes it much more difficult to unite as both sides feel they are being talked down to or coined racist for expressing an opinion that simply may not toe the "correct" line.

The film opens with a news report stating that a group of white students held a "black face" party on Halloween setting the campus community into an uproar and starting a small riot.  We then flashback a few weeks to see the lead-up to this event, focusing mainly on the black student population as headstrong radio DJ Sam (Tessa Thompson) whose radio show skewers the white student body of Winchester goes up against seemingly by-the-books Troy (Brandon Bell) whose father (Dennis Haysbert) is the Dean of Students to be the head of the traditionally black Armstrong/Parker House.

This battle is the basis of all conflicts in Dear White People as Simien explores not only white-black race relations, but also rifts within the African American culture itself.  (Note:  In a rather funny line, the film states that utilizing the term "African American" is inherently racist itself in that white culture uses the words because they're "afraid" to simply use the term black thanks to current societal norms.)  Unfortunately, Simien's film seems a little disjointed and it feels a bit obvious while watching that we're witnessing a debut film.

While the direction may have felt a little sitcom-ish at times, the cast more than makes up for the flick's faults.  The aforementioned Tessa Thompson is a compelling lead and Tyler James Williams as a newspaper reporter covering the racial issues on campus is also humorously enjoyable.  Teyonah Parris also succeeds in a rather difficult role as Coco, a stuck-up black student who feels more motivated by white culture than her own.

Rather interestingly, Coco's story is really at the heart of what Dear White People is trying to espouse.  While there's importance in understanding one's own culture, is there really anything wrong with finding an appeal in another way of life?  Perhaps there is, or maybe there isn't.  Your interpretation of what the film has to say may vary, but Simien does a good job at skewering all sides of the argument.  In the hands of a slightly more capable director, Dear White People would've really shined, but as it stands now, it's still an interesting film that's worth a watch and a nice start for a new voice on the film landscape.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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