I scored a ticket to a free screening of Dear White People on Monday and was more than excited to see it. Before I moved to LA, a friend of mine tasked me with 2 things: a) Go see Dear White People b) Meet Issa Rae. And in my short time here, I’ve done both (check out my post on meeting Issa Rae here). We’ve all seen the videos that have been making [some] White people uncomfortable and [some] Black people say “YAAASSS!” If you’re one of the 2 people who hasn’t seen them, here’s the trailer:
I had really high hopes for the movie. I’m one of those Black people that said “YAAASSS!” when I first heard about the concept, the tongue-in-cheek title and saw the numerous promotional videos. I mean…the writer and director won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough talent, so I figured that meant something. And without giving too much away, here is what I thought of “Dear White People”.
If you’ve ever been to a PWI [Predominantly White Institution], then you’ve either met or been one of the characters in the movie. There’s your Black guy/White girl couple, the biracial girl who takes on the role of “militant black chick” (that’s a direct quote), bougie Black girl who is trying desperately to distance herself from her Blackness, the awkward “too black for the white folk, not black enough for the black folk” kid, the down-for-the-cause non-Black person, the Queer student of color, the conscious Blacks, the “tryna be Black” White guy and the “I wear salmon shorts or loafers and am disadvantaged as a White male because…affirmative action” etc…
This collective of characters weaved a story that was all too familiar about the struggles of being Black in college and finding a safe space on campus, while trying to find your voice and figure out your future. All of the characters are searching for their place in this institution and society, something that those of us in our 20s (and maybe 30s) are acutely aware of (or is that a personal problem?). The script and the actors do a good job of illustrating those inner conflicts and presenting multi-faceted people, while not shying away from boldly stating what’s currently being discussed in Africana Centers/Black Student Unions. Seriously, I don’t care how cool you think my hair is. Don’t put your (probably dirty) hand in my fresh twist-out, which took me a long time to perfect, especially without asking. You hear me random drunk dude at the bar?
And while that honesty/lifting of the veil for White people is what’s been driving the pre-release buzz, the homage to Spike Lee and witty references were the highlight of the movie for me. Justin is clearly a Spike Lee fan with references to Do the Right Thing and Bamboozled to name a few. Some of the scenes in the movie could be seamlessly transposed in Spike Lee joint. Plus, any script which recognizes how avant-garde Stark Trek: The Next Generation was for its time, is a winner in my book. Justin wrote a witty, funny script which will feel familiar to millennials and 80s babies alike. (Fun fact: It took 7 years from inception to now. It took Justin 3 years to have a script and then they started testing out the material on social media. At least that’s what I was told during the Q&A after the screening)
Now listen carefully folks. The film doesn’t present an exhaustive picture of what every Black/White person thinks nor should it. I think that when stories try to cover too much breath of material, they often lack depth. But it does present a pretty wide snapshot, at least compared to the narrow definition of what it means to be Black according to the media. I actually would have liked to see the film address socio-economic status as well. Too often that is used interchangeably with race, especially in research [that shit pisses me off by the way]. While I understand that due to the racist system of oppression that has been created through laws and the legacy of grave injustices against Native American, Black, Japanese people etc… there is a strong correlation between socio-economic status and race, I think it’s a lazy substitute. It excuses us from understanding the nuances in the lived experiences of AHANA people, as well as questioning the reason for such a correlation. However, I understand that there is only so much you can cover in a 2-hour feature film.
At it’s core, Dear White People is meant to be a marketable comedy with dramatic moments. As Effie Brown, one of the producers, said during the Q&A: “It’s show business. Not show charity or show art. You have to able to sell your product” There are love triangles, discussions about freedom of speech vs. y’all actually a bunch of prejudiced a$%holes (we had plenty of that at my alma mater), mentions of post-racial U.S.A, reality TV etc…
Dear White People is well-written, entertaining [written, produced, directed by young Black people] and isn’t a Tyler Perry movie, filled with trite caricatures of Black people (Seriously dude, I appreciate your success and that you employ Black actors but that does not make your material above reproach). The movie will start discussions, but for some of us, those discussions aren’t new. I’m not sure that Dear White People will make a huge difference in how people perceive race and racism. If Black boys and girls constantly being murdered doesn’t make a difference, I don’t think a group of attractive, funny Black people is going to do the trick. If anything, it will spark a conversation among the people who are always engaged in the conversation.