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DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (review)

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(This review was originally written for Exclaim! Magazine. It is being published here with their kind permission.)
 
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
Written and Directed by Justin Simien
Starring Tessa Thompson, Lionel Higgins and Dennis Hasybert
 

President Fletcher: Racism is over in America. The only people who are thinking about it still are Mexicans probably.

Dear film goers, please stop whatever it is you’re doing and go see DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, the delightful yet still insightful new film by first time feature filmmaker, Justin Simien. The winner of this year’s Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE explores modern day racism at a predominantly white, Ivy League college in a supposedly post-racism America. Simien makes his very important point with style and wit to spare, and in doing so, announces himself as a fresh, new voice in American filmmaking.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE takes its name from a college radio show aimed at exposing micro-aggressions against the black people on campus from the potentially well intentioned white student body. The show’s founder is Samantha White (Tessa Thompson, and no, the last name is not lost on me.) Samantha is determined to expose the college’s inherently prejudiced housing regulations, which keep the students more or less segregated, and in doing so, begins to take on a leadership role she isn’t sure she wants. The rest of the ensemble includes Samantha’s ex-boyfriend, Reggie (Marque Richardson), who left Samantha for a white girl at the insistence of his father, the college dean (played by Dennis Hasybert), Coco (Teyonah Parris), a black woman determined to become famous no matter who that means she has to be, and Tyler (Lionel Higgins), a black, gay man who doesn’t seem to fit in with the black students or the white one’s.

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Tension on campus is mounting and boils over when a white fraternity decides to throw a black theme party, in a horrifically misguided attempt at homage. This forces each member of the cast to look inside and face who they are or, as they are still young, who they want to become, both in relation to and regardless of their race. As sharp and direct as the film is on the subject of race, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is still consistently and uproariously hilarious. It is never oversimplified but rather instead embraces its collegiate school of thinking while finding the humour always lying beneath the surface. Most importantly though, Simien exposes much of our contemporary thinking on race by focusing less on the collective and more on the individuals themselves, which is exactly how it should be.

4 sheep

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