“Dear white people, the minimum requirement of black friends needed to not seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, but your weed man, Tyrone, does not count.”
-Sam White (Tessa Thompson) on her college radio show called Dear White People.
“How would you feel if someone started a Dear Black People”
“No need, mass media from Fox news to reality tv on VH1 makes it clear what white people think of us”
The answers lie in the grey, not the black and white.
In 1988, Spike Lee directed School Daze, a controversial, inflammatory comedy film about the black experience at an all black American University, DWP is, in a sense the grandchild of SD. And is proud to be so.
This is essentially a film about the lives of four black students at a prestigious Ivy League college the difference to SD is this college, Winchester University, is predominantly white.
Justin Simien wrote the first draft in 2012, filmed a concept trailer and set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise $25,000, his campaign went viral and he received a massive response and got $40,000, he then teamed up with Code Red Films and made DWP independently of any studio influence. This is obvious when watching it, NO studio in the world would see this as a financial sure bet. It is written very well, albeit a tad too poetically at times, but articulates its points clearly and intelligently. Herein lies the problem, most folks will not see this and mores the shame, the questions it asks and points it raises are much deeper mined than most of the surface attempts to look at racism, where it is now, the consequences of having such a legacy, what it means to be a young black person in America today etc etc.
Here is the link to the Indiegogo trailer:
The usual narrative in these stories is all about the symptoms and, as in life; too much focus has been put onto these issues. DWP goes deeper to the root of the problems and for that it should be highly commended. It runs deep and this should be taken into account when dealing with these incredibly sensitive issues.
The “Get on with it, everything’s alright now, isn’t it” brigade want to sweep the detritus under the carpet but many are still living amongst the debris and this point needs more light shining on it, get the Dyson out as opposed to the brush, go deep, only then will we be able to get closer to understanding the rhymes AND the reason. DWP deals with the subjects with integrity and compassion.
The use of the soundtrack is beautifully realized mixing classical with soul, hip hop and a bunch of great tunes.
The cast all bring it; deep, measured performances, each of them asked to deliver chunky, rich dialogue, and all of them pulling it off. Tyler James Williams (Chris in Chris Rock’s tv show ‘Everybody Hates Chris) as Lionel Hart has the difficult job of playing the awkward gay, black kid but manages to fill his performance with heart, uncertainty and deep waters.
Tessa Thompson (recently seen in Selma) plays they young upstart, Sam White who, in running for the Head of her house, unwittingly wins the seat which sends her on her own journey of discovery.
Teyonah Paris is Collandrea ‘Coco’ Connors desperate to carve a niche for herself, wanting to distance herself from her roots.
Brandon Bell is the high achieving Troy Fairbanks, son to Dennis Haybert’s Dean Fairbanks and through his journey seeks to find the happy medium of pleasing his father and himself (that might take a while IRL).
Kyle Gallner plays Kurt Fletcher, the son of the President of the college and the head of the popular house that puts on an insensitively themed party that leads to some inevitable conflict.
Dear White People is a film that will be seen by the already converted and this is a shame, it’s an educated piece of film that doesn’t dumb itself down for the masses and this is both its strength and its weakness.
On the one hand DWP is made for the choir by the choir, they will appreciate it but why preach to the already converted, the idea of spreading a message or re-educating people should start more accessibly, but on the other hand, not pandering to the audience allows them to be lifted and challenged by the piece. That’s what David Simon did with The Wire, let it be what it will be and if the audience are on board, great, if not, so what? This is how perception changes: By doing things differently.
This is what Simien has done, unapologetically and for that I salute him.
If you’re looking for a funny, satirical, well-written look at the Black experience in an American college, look no further, DWP is it.