DEAR WHITE PEOPLE follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where a riot breaks out over a popular "African American" themed party thrown by white students.
Justin Simien weaves an intricate story about the subtleties of how racial issues affects us, and how the entire subject is tenuously defined by the idea of black and white.
There are a few heavy drops of race talk given for the sake of comedy and setup. But underneath is the true nature of the discussion. Several points of view were sifted through the storytelling lens. And in the middle of it all was the observant Mr. Higgins, who didn't quite fit on any side of the conversation. Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) gave a very good performance as Lionel, a kid trying to find his way as a journalist, but having trouble just being accepted in any facet. One of the things I enjoyed about Williams' performance was the many times he commented on the conflicts in the film with priceless facial expressions. Tessa Thompson and Brandon P. Bell also did a decent job of carrying the weight of the drama in this overall comedy. They sold me on their characters going from the stereotypical pro-black or integrate argument to revealing their multifaceted sides as they became more three dimensional and emotive. Kyle Gallner and Justin Dobies also provided good portrayals of the varying degrees to which white people understand or dismiss the open conversations of black people.
Simien also paid a healthy dose of homage to Spike Lee and his classic SCHOOL DAZE. But this film was a more intelligent look at race relations and how far we have come, or not come, in the current generation. It doesn't hide the fact that there are many white people that still have to comprehend the complexity of being a person of color in this society. But the story also provides a view of how some black people struggle to define themselves, or rather struggle with the supposed need to define themselves because that's what society tells them to do. By the end you are left wondering if it all means anything. But you also know that addressing these topics are necessary. Because if we don't have these conversations then 'Hip Hop' parties will continue to plague us. You will see when you watch the film.
I wasn't rolling in my seat with laughter. Nor was I downtrodden with overt racial themes. I enjoyed the film because it became interesting in how the characters and their stories became intertwined and culminated into a final climatic outcome.
And I have to say something about the cinematography and directing. Simien's use of parallels in the framing of some early scenes were striking metaphors for the polarized interactions of the characters while also reminding us of the backdrop of an ivy league school. That's for you film students out there.
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is an enjoyable film that has some laughs and several good messages that you will mull over in your brain. It carries on a realistic conversation that I wish was being carried on in reality more often. Geek Soul Brother gives it 4.25 out of 5 COSMIC AFROS.