Justin Simien tries too hard to get his point across in his satirical drama “Dear White People.” While the film invites a new voice into the racial discussion, Simien forfeits solid character development, and all around good acting, for a chance at stimulating conversation.
“Racism is over in America” is a statement made by Winchester University’s white president, played by Peter Syvertsen. Not only does this represent the extreme opinion of one side of the argument shown in the film, it’s one of the many lines that invoke laughs and scoffs from the audience. However, Simien doesn’t shy away from providing the extremes of the alternative side of the debate.
Main character Sam White (Tessa Thompson) leads much of the racial conversation within “Dear White People” thanks to her radio show of the same name. She raises accusations about the public concerning stereotypes and prejudices. Her character’s points are intended to cause the audience to look at themselves and how they approach situations that she brings up.
Bookended by a notorious fraternity’s “black culture”-themed party (which included blackface), “Dear White People” highlights the unfortunate growing trend of campus parties showing up on the news for their alleged racist themes. Simien connects his film to current issues by providing shots of real life articles depicting these campus parties discussed in the film.
Simien obviously wants to tell us something. However, he seems to get caught up in his argument. Although I find racial issues relevant and very important, it’s easy to feel like you are being force-fed too many opinions at once. “Dear White People” is home to a slew of characters that have huge potential, but Simien only scratches the surface, focusing more on his message than the people he’s using to convey it.
We have Sam White, dealing with family problems and internal conflicts. There’s the youngster of campus (Tyler James Williams) trying to find out where he belongs. We see the poster boy of perfection (Brandon P Bell), pressured by his father’s expectations and the pretty face (Teyonah Parris), who seems to be trying to shed her cultural background. I found myself hoping to learn more about these complex characters but only receiving an introduction.
“Dear White People” is important. It contains a message that everyone needs to hear, and it’s presented wittingly, even if it’s at the cost of character understanding.
MOVE gives “Dear White People 4 out of 5 stars.