#MixxReview: Dear White People

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Dear White people,

Just stop.

A concerned Black American.

A “Dear White People” twitter account would probably be an extremely popular and useful tool in today’s world considering the shenanigans that take place daily. Between the appropriation of Black culture and the “columbusing” of everything from hair trends to wedding traditions, someone has to stop White people (someone other than Buzzfeed). If you were hoping this film would offer a scathing critique of the antics exhibited by White Americans, then you will leave the theatre mostly disappointed. Dear White People is actually more about Blackness than it is about Whiteness.

Dear White People, directed by Justin Simien, is a satirical drama focused on the experiences of Black students at a fictitious Ivy League college named Winchester University. The film’s tagline is being a “Black face in a White place” and each of the four main characters struggle to define their Blackness at their prestigious White institution. Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls), who plays the lead role of Sam White, is radio host turned residential hall president. Her fierce love for Black culture is the driving force behind the film as the other main characters have either struggled to find their Black identity — as is the case with Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams, Everybody Hates Chris) — or have thrown their Blackness to the side in order to excel in a White world — as is the case with Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) and Troy Fairbanks (Brandon Bell).

All of their worlds collide as they struggle like any other college-aged young adult to find themselves. Here is where the film begins to struggle. There are too many themes that Simien tries to tackle such as race, gender, class, and sexuality. However, this could be symbolic of the diversity that exists within the Black community. Black people are not a monolith and it would take a hundred of these films before we even scratch the surface of Blackness.

Between ABC’s Black-ish and this movie, Blackness seems to be a well-deserving topic of discussion. Unfortunately, the Blackness being discussed occurs in spaces where some upward mobility has taken place. Black people that occupy these spaces are forced to not only find an identity, but to sustain it through generations. These two productions do nothing to speak to the Black underclass.

The White characters in this film only add to the chaos of navigating through the world as a college-aged Black person. The tension that exists on the campus of Winchester University boils over when the White students throw a hip-hop themed blackface party. But even this event exposes the lack of conviction in this film. The fact is had this portion of the film been dealt with how most Black folk would have liked, Dear White People, probably wouldn’t have made it into the Sundance festival let alone to the big screen.

Therein lies the problem with this kind of satire. You can only poke at the surface if you wish to reach your targeted audience. Dear White People will serve as a springboard for some important conversations such as, “No, White people, you cannot touch my hair.” But, if we are looking to have a serious discussion about race this misses the mark. The strong performances carry this film a long way and it is definitely worth the price of admission, if you can find it, as it only appeared in select theaters.

In theaters now.

Star rating: 3/5 stars

MPAA rating: R (language, sexual content, and drug use)

Running time: 1 hr. 48 min

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