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Dear White People Review By: James Mite-Excel! Research Scholar

dear white peopleJustin Simien, in his debut feature film Dear White People, challenges the flowery notion that we live in a color-blind and post-racial paradise in the age of Obama. With a great deal of flair and wit, plus equal parts humor and drama, Simien aggressively toys with the belief that racial tensions have suddenly disappeared since the election of America’s first black president, in fact as Kurt (Kyle Shelling) so graciously puts it “the hardest thing to be in America is a middle class white man.” This indie film addresses racial tensions and misunderstandings in a similar fashion as Spike Lee did with his early films School Daze and Do The Right Thing. In his debut, Justin Simien uses his excellent writing and awfully direct dialogue to approach these subtleties and micro-aggressions of society in regards to race, class, and sexuality. Simien sought out to tackle issues of identity, race, homophobia, and many more from the perspectives of four middle and upper-middle class black students.
Following the unanticipated election of Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring filmmaker and DJ, as head of a traditionally black residence hall, a culture war between the privilege students and the black students erupts on the campus of Winchester University, a fictional Ivy-league university. Sam leverages her popularity as host of the provocative radio show “Dear White People” to challenge the somewhat uncomfortable truths about the interactions between whites and blacks. While the former head-of-house Troy Fairbanks (Brandon Bell), son of the dean of students, decides to disobey his father’s wishes by applying to join the staff of Pastiche, the college’s influential humor magazine, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), a gay aspiring journalist with an awesomely exotic afro, is recruited by school’s lily-white and well connected newspaper to go undercover and write about black culture, a subject which he knows little about. Coco Conners on the other hand, a “nose-job” (assimilationist) and aspiring reality TV star, takes advantage of the controversy on campus in hope to earn a spot on the up and coming reality TV show “Black Face/White Place.” The film’s climatic ending is highlighted at Pastiche’s outrageous annual Halloween party, and this year’s “unleash your inner Negro” theme causes a huge race “riot” at Winchester, ultimately dividing the campus in two.
Dear White People is more about the struggles black students on predominately white campuses have with defining their identities in a society inflicted by the disease of reality TV and cultural appropriation, and less of an open letter to throw shade on white people for their hypocrisies (in regards to race relations). The film’s ending sheds light on the recent outbreaks of racist-themed parties on college campuses across America with hopes to raise awareness about such issues. In the context of a prestigious predominately white college campus, Dear White People is simply an exploration of white privilege and the difficulties of “otherness” that many black students experience. This film is truly a great conversation starter that delivers a thought provoking subject, and successfully pokes fun at our guilty obsession with race.

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