Dear White People
Smart satire from Justin Simien that confidently tackles racial politics and identity
This canny satire from debut writer-director Justin Simien may make you squirm but it presents a complex picture of racial politics and identity in the US, taking matters way beyond simple provocation. With an edge that belies its sophisticated higher education setting and a satisfying streak of compassion, Dear White People is about muddling your way through a mixed-up world filled with residual judgements and resentments.
It introduces us to the prestigious, self-segregated Winchester University – a nest of users, bullies, closet racists, entitled assholes and shit-starters. The film follows white-girl wannabe Coco (Teyonah Parris), troubled shock-jock Sam (Tessa Thompson), faction-less gay nerd Lionel (Tyler James Williams) and smart stud Troy (Brandon P Bell) as they negotiate, or get stuck right into, the nastiness.
Fuelled by Sam's incendiary radio show, the 'Dear White People' of the title – which is jumped upon by various opportunists – the on-campus tensions and rivalries build to a truly horrible Halloween party: a grotesque splurge of offensive caricatures and anti-PC excess that's teased at the outset, and that takes depressing inspiration from similar, real-world, celebrations.
Executed with both class and character and performed to perfection by its young, predominantly black cast, Dear White People gifts us glimpses of the insecurity and uncertainty behind the carefully manufactured fronts. In particular, it brings the conflicted Sam's story to a surprisingly sensitive, disarmingly sweet resolution.
Simien helms with style to spare but makes sure the emphasis is firmly on substance, as he offers great insight into the contradictions and concerns of young black culture. And he provides thoughtful, witty commentary on the dog-eat-dog world of ambitious hopefuls of any skin colour, whose opinions are played back and preserved for posterity before they've even graduated, and who stumble in their haste to make a mark.
Selected release from Fri 10 Jul.