Dear White People (2014)

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“It’s a strange symbiosis that we’re here to investigate.”

I’ll just come out and say it; I did not like this movie. There’s no lead character, no tangible or metaphorical antagonist to be found, and no cohesion whatsoever to the story being told. Satire is largely used as a means of social and political critique through humor. I’ve never seen one that left me full of indifference. They’re either  hit or miss, and this one, for me, never came close. Dear White People lacks any resemblance to comedy, and the drama, while current and timely, is never fundamental to the story. With stiff dialogue spewed out in an Aaron Sorkin cadence plus a constant and disappointing use of title cards, this is another film that tries to TELL us everything. Great films show, inferiors tell. If Dear White People was a magician, we’d know every trick up his sleeve, and he’d walk us through each step of the ruse.

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This uncaptained, tongue-in-cheek story mostly revolves around the solipsistic Sam White (Tessa Thompson, the only bright spot in the dark “comedy”). She, along with a handful of other African Americans, attends an Ivy League College. Her radio show, which the film is named after, throws shade at the white community. She claims the whites try to be like her people, that for some reason they put her down all while emulating her. It’s self-righteous and never proved over the course of the film.

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Fellow black classmate Lionel (Tyler James Williams) is ostracized by his African American community for being a homosexual and teased by the whites because of his giant, well-kept afro. There are some more storylines, which I will spare, because the characters add no dynamic or depth. Sam and Lionel carry the load, and both actors really deliver solid performances. And that’s where my affection for the movie ends. Besides some artistic shot choices displaying writer/director Justin Simien’s obvious talent, Dear White People fails in every other category. The inconsistent script has no buildup, although the direction would suggest otherwise, and the drama goes unfulfilled. You know those movies where the lazy guy sleeps with the beautiful woman? He does his thing, there’s the abrupt climax, and then BAM he’s passed out snoring? This movie’s a little like that.

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A lot of what this film has to say is accurate. It comments on racially themed parties. It discusses what it really means to be a part of a culture, to be integrated into a racially defined group. Just check your local news. This is our reality whether we like it or not. Strip down the best satires, like Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, or Airplane!, and you’re still left with a brazenly, truly funny movie. You should at least feel bewilered and confused (watch Putney Swope and try to come out of it levelheaded). Dear White People fails to push the envelope and ends up as the kid in class who tells the teacher when asked to pass a note to the pretty girl a few rows up. It’s consistently safe and procedural. Ultimately, it’s entirely too black and white, on the page and on the screen. Satire is meant to rise above race and comment on society at large, and instead Dear White People forgets about everyone else on the color wheel, save for a token Asian woman’s appearance. Justin Simien certainly has talent…but this is a pyrrhic effort at best.

“Black people can’t be racist.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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