Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review: "Dear White People" (2014)

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Movie"Dear White People"
Director: Justin Simien and Adriana Serrano
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Winchester is prestigious Ivy League university that has come under some recent scrutiny due to a hip-hop themed Halloween party where white students were encouraged to show up in blackface. Flashback five weeks to how it all began. Sam White (Tessa Thompson) is a biracial student who has her own radio cast she calls "Dear White People," which is racially charged program that intends to enlighten people to the black state of mind. Colandrea 'Coco' Conners (Teyonah Parris) is from the south side of Chicago, but would prefer to distance herself from being associated with 'the hood' and hopes to garner some fame through a reality TV show, but is not combative enough to fit the bill. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell) is a poli-sci major and son of the Dean of Students. He is heavily involved in student politics and tends to do whatever his father asks, but is taken aback when he loses the house presidency to his ex-girlfriend, Sam White. Finally, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is a gay black man who is into sci-fi and Mumford and Sons and is struggling to find his place at Winchester. He occasionally submits articles to the school paper and one day is approached by the editor to write a profile on black students on campus since none of the 100% white staff could write it without sounding racist. Actions by all these students in the upcoming weeks help play a hand in the school's recent controversy. 

This film is really, really good! We hadn't heard a whole lot about it leading up to seeing it, so we jumped the gun one day and decided to watch it. To our surprise, for a 9 pm Monday night showtime, there were a lot of people in the audience. It is a socially and politically driven satire about the lives of black students and the discrimination and racism that goes on in universities and colleges across the nation. Pretty much every Halloween, or at least once a year like clockwork, we hear stories about how people who thought it was a good idea to throw a "blackface party," or a "gangster" party, or a "cholo" party. Seriously? Still? People who say racism is dead in this country have no idea what they are talking about. By approaching the subject in a humorous manner, "Dear White People" manages to send a very powerful and important message without being overly preachy. Both sides of the racial coin are debated throughout the film in a satirical style, though the issues presented are very much realistic. This humor allows the film to display how racism is still very much alive and well, especially in areas that are made up of mostly white people. From the back-handed compliments given to black students ("oh wow, you're so articulate!"), to restrictions black students put on themselves (adjusting their "blackness" based on who is in the room), the film analyzes all aspects of the racial equation. It was a bold endeavor to undertake, but this film is beautifully executed and hilarious to boot. It's snarky, touchy, and poignant all at the same time. 

There is a lot of fine acting all around in this movie. The performances given by both Tessa Thompson, who plays Sam, an angry biracial student who has seen enough racism to fill two lifetimes, and Tyler James Williams, who plays Lionel, a gay black student wandering aimlessly both in college and in life and faced discrimination for his sexual orientation from even black students at his high school, are both quite powerful. The issue with these two students specifically is that they both don't fit into one particular neatly labeled package. Sam is both black and white who wants to further the cause of social justice for black people, but is also in love with a white man. Lionel is both gay and black, and a nerd on top of all that, so he faced discrimination from every angle and never really found his proper place. Life is all about boxes and the labels society puts on them and finding where we fit. You're either gay OR straight, black OR white OR Mexican, Christian OR atheist, Republican OR're never just you. You can't be both without facing some sort of backlash. There's a label for every belief, every race, every class, everything and when people question those beliefs and labels, that's when change starts to happen, and people fear change. All these labels do are highlight our difference rather than showcasing our similarities.

In my travels on the interwebsz, I have seen those who say "you're racist if you don't like this movie" AND "you're racist if you like this movie." We say a hearty "screw off" to all the people fighting about it. Can't we just like it for what it is, a well-written, well acted, excellent piece of cinema with a solid message and interesting point of view with lots of tongue-in-cheek satirical humor? All in all, we really enjoyed it and would like to watch it again when it comes out on DVD.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!
One year ago, we were watching: "The Omen"

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