Dear White People looks at the subtleties of bigotry
by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Dear White People
RPL Film Theatre
The events of the last few weeks in the U.S. have provided us with evidence that the racial divide is far from solved. Police bigotry and social and economic alienation keeps equality out of reach for the African American community.
At its best, Dear White People goes beyond the most obvious examples of racism and focuses on how discrimination has found a way into higher learning institutions, and on the challenges educated black youth face in their quest for an identity.
The film has high ambitions but many of the provocative ideas included in the movie are underdeveloped. Yet, since we are not privy to many of them, Dear White People still feels clever and fresh.
The movie follows four black Ivy League students as they navigate the tricky waters of college politics. Troy is a golden boy-type trying to turn his mildly progressive views into a political career. His positions are often challenged by Sam, a sophomore less likely to compromise in matters such as the “randomization” of the one African American house on campus.
On the periphery, a smarter-than-she-lets-on girl named Coco tries to boost her social media profile in hopes of entering the reality TV craze.
Then there’s Lionel, a bespectacled geek without a niche. His sexual orientation and academic pursuits isolate him even further. And he’s the most sympathetic of the bunch.
First time writer/director Justin Simien has a finer touch than Spike Lee and manages complexities better than Tyler Perry. Simien doesn’t just depict conflict: he discusses the commodification of controversy. Fringe movements are not only introduced, we see them co-opted or quashed.
There are probably three or four compelling movies inside the Dear White People hodgepodge. Hardly a perfect movie, but it’s worth seeing, thanks to the undeniable potential on display.