Saturday, October 25, 2014

"You know what? Never mind." - Dear White People

 I've been waiting for this film for two years and it's finally here!

Seen Saturday October 25th: Dear White People

Four African-American college students struggle in their own ways to articulate and negotiate their identities/blackness in the face of various societal pressures, media influences, personal experiences, and peer expectations. Main character Sam leads the crusade against racism, discrimination, and racialized willful ignorance on the campus of fictional Ivy League school, Winchester University. When the top fraternity lead by wealthy white kids (including the university president's son) throws a blatantly racist "African-American themed" party, an unlikely hero steps up to shut it down...

"A satire about being a black face in a white place"

What I really like about this movie: First, it's brilliant and timely! People don't like to talk about race anymore, act like racism doesn't exist, and/or refuse to recognize that they've got it all mixed up... and while this film won't necessary clear it all up for folks, it's an excellent discussion-starter. DWP goes there, unabashedly, with no apologies, and I love it. Second, when's the last time you've seen a large group of young black people in college on any TV or cinema screen? Answer: Not since 'A Different World', and that series ended 20 years ago.

Third, Tessa Thompson. Her styling in the first half of the film was phenomenal! The creative up-dos, the subtle make-up and dark lip shades, the new millennium Denise Huxtable/Lisa Bonet styling? Just perfect. Also, I have to admit that even despite her promising performance in For Colored Girls, I always saw her as just another pretty light-skinned girl in Hollywood. Sorry Tess. But her performance in DWP was so intelligent and honest and purposefully confrontational that you can't not take Sam/Tess seriously.  Fourth, Tyler James Williams. You are officially the bravest black male actor on Earth. Props to you man for facing one of the deepest-held stigmas and phobias in the black community head-on, in one of the biggest media platforms. (That's all I'll say, I don't want to spoil it.) Fifth, one of the films main messages, which is that black people need to be able to be themselves, whatever that happens to mean for each person. The film echoes some of the exact same ideas expressed in the book How to Be Black, and how fitting was it that its author Baratunde Thurston actually makes a cameo in the film?!

What I don't like about this movie: There wasn't anything that particularly turned me off, but I  had this lingering sense that something was missing. It was funny, but not that funny (maybe they gave all the good jokes away in the trailers and teaser clips/social media promotion/YouTube skits?). It wasn't as hard-hitting as I'd hoped it would be. It was certainly bold and blunt, but it could've gone a little bit further in terms of the subjects it broached and the statements it made. Also, the film reads more like a continuous, brilliantly-done web-series/online project than a feature film. I didn't really feel like I was watching a movie. Which perhaps is part of the point, seeing as how Justin Simien took pride in making this as an independent film. All in all, I don't think that Dear White People is a spectacular film. But it is no less brilliant, timely, and necessary.

Would I recommend it?: Absolutely! Most definitely! I don't care if you're black, white, yellow, brown, or blue. Every living, breathing person in America needs to see this film at least once. This country needs films like these.

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