I heard rumblings of a viral video addressing white people as a collective a few years ago. My interest was piqued and I found it quite amusing, but I never would have fathomed it would go anywhere from there. I didn’t think it was intended as a continued narrative, which goes to show you how little faith I have in my own story.
The protagonist, Sam (Tessa Thompson), is a biracial student attending the mostly white, fictional Winchester University. She has created a radio show called “Dear White People” to deal with all the day-to-day micro-racism she encounters. I say “micro” not because it is unimportant or detrimental, quite the contrary, but rather this is the kind of racism that is often overlooked by anyone who has never experienced it…and often those who have. Chalked up to being oversensitive, people of color are all too familiar with the comments that make you wonder if people see you as more than just your race.
“Dear White People, the minimum requirement of black friends to not seem racist, has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man Tyrone doesn’t count“ – this film comes out the gate swinging.
Dear White People has some incredibly authentic dialogue, representing both sides of the coin. This is director and writer, Justin Simien’s story, and it’s one I think many people will identify with.
Sam begins the film guns-a-blazing, vocalizing things that so many have wanted to say, but never have. Described as, “like Spike Lee and Oprah had some kind of pissed off baby,” we witness Sam’s inner turmoil. She struggles with what she knows to be the truth about herself. She is seen as a leader of the black community, but she also listens to Taylor Swift and has a white father. Sam is working through a struggle that frequents so many, but is rarely spoken about. Am I black enough?
Reggie (Marque Richardson) is an almost Malcolm X type, intelligent, calculating and ready to pounce. He is a young man who wants to utilize Sam’s notoriety among the African American students, for his almost Blank Panther inspired agenda. Troy (Brandon P Bell) is the guy who chooses not to rock the boat, instead opting to appease his rich and influential white counterparts, as his father, the dean, has taught him.
Coco (Teyonah Parris) is Sam’s biggest adversary, whether Sam is aware of it or not. I was least impressed with her character, as I disliked the portrayl of “insecure dark skinned girl who is jealous of the light skinned girl” that far too frequently plays out in these stories. In a story of well-rounded characters, I felt she was the most one-sided, which was disappointing.
Lionel (Tyler James Williams) is the character on the outside looking in, faced with isolation from the white kids and the black kids, which is a story that too many are faced with. A lot of us face comparisons to Steve Urkel and comments like “you talk like a white person.” It’s about so much more than physically being African American, it’s about proving that you’re black. I was really ecstatic that they included a character like Lionel, who was almost lost in a sea of polarity.
The film did carry on for quite some time with no definitive finality. Part two perhaps? Direction and story-telling is Simien’s own, with occasional humor so dry, blink and you miss it. With so many characters it was difficult to connect with and see all of their stories, all the way through. Part of me feels like much of this would have carried over to television nicely.
Dear White People hits theatres nation wide October 24th.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Interviewing Marque, I was shocked to meet an extremely open and friendly guy. His character Reggie was somewhat stoic, so I anticipated meeting that
person. He played his character well. I was thoroughly impressed with his insight into the film, as he offered a perspective of Dear White People
that I never would have had, had I not interviewed this enamoring thespian.
Montgomery Jones: I saw the movie and I loved it!
Marque Richardson: Aw, thanks.
As an African American woman, a black woman, I really appreciate that you guys showcased three dimensional black people. No one was perfect, there was not a “good” guy and a “bad” guy. How did you feel when you read the script?
I agree with everything you just said. Just to touch on that, it’s great to have a film, a college-aged film where you don’t just have a “jock” or a “pretty” girl or whatever. Like you said, they’re three dimensional. So when I read the script I was attracted to the three dimensional aspects of this character. The flaws and everything, the complexities. I loved it, you don’t get a chance to dive into something like that often. It’s funny cause when I read the script, I took it as a drama with some comedy elements, so when I was on set playing Reggie who is this modern day Malcolm X.
That’s exactly what I was going to say.
Yeah? Mixed with the character Bugging Out from Do the Right Thing. I would listen to ya know, Malcolm X speeches and fairly 80s and 90s rap and hip hop. Public Enemy, NWA to get myself ready. So I took myself so serious so when I saw it the first time at Sundance and the audience was just dying laughing. I was like “I was trying to be serious, I was having a serious moment!” I did not realize how funny it was, how funny this film was. That’s just a testament to Justin and his being a writer in satire. It’s so smart.
Do you think more movies like this will come out? Less conventional characters, even more black ensembles?
Yes, I hope so. And to tell you the truth, I’m not just interested in “black” stories. What resonated with me was this is a story about identity. An identity crisis and really giving the audience a new level of consciousness in terms of who you might identify with. There are many other characters than what you see in yourself. Shines a little light on things you didn’t know. Things you didn’t know you didn’t even know. There are tons of other projects out there that are not like Dear White People, but are different kinds of content. Smart, diverse, color, but this has been going on since 1915, when you had birth of a nation. When blacks were depicted in a way that they didn’t like back then. And then you had a resurgence of indy films that wanted to depict black people in a different light. So every ten, fifteen, twenty years or so, it’s the same thing. I think we are at the beginning of another resurgence of these kinds of films. I hope it spreads to all different kinds of cultures.
I love it, I’m a huge fan of Issa Rae.
She’s part of that resurgence!
Right, “Awkward Black Girl”, Color Creative TV, I love it. She actually tweeted “it’s a big year for slavery” last year and I was dying because it is so true. A lot of shows on the internet like hers are being picked up. Kickstarter, Indigogo, etc. What is it about these shows that start online, that people resonate with?
Because it’s truth. Because it’s honest and people are tired of seeing the same shit that network tv pump out and dump out in to the world. That’s why whether it be youtube, whether it be hulu who is producing content now, Netflix, or Amazon, they’re really doing some edgy things, and yes, it is about making money, but it’s also about telling stories now that really resonate with a new breed of the people. That’s how it was when HBO first came on. Kind of edgy, edgy content. A different people could really embrace and appreciate it. Especially with the web, you can do whatever the fuck you want to do, put out whatever kind of content you want to put out as long as it’s a good story. If people like it and they want it…you can track it and see that there is a need or a hunger for whatever kind of content is wanted. Technology makes it easier for us, you can go out and tell your story. Put some shit out, see what happens.
“Cops, Fox News, and reality TV let’s us know exactly what you think of us.” Sam the protagonist says in response to a peer stating he is going to make a show called “Dear Black People”. That line really resonated with me, I almost feel like Mr. Simione knew every question people were going to ask. He answered them before they could even ask them. Why is it that we need these answers to give people, before they get upset? I’ve already seen some comments “Why is it called Dear White People?” What is it about the movie that is frustrating white people? And black people?
I was gonna say, and black people too! I hear some of them just screaming at the screen and I’m just like “chill!” I will say that this story is Justin’s truth, so he lived it. That’s why it resonates so well with so many people. But when you look at the blogs and comments, a lot of the people haven’t even seen it! They’re going based off of the title and the title’s job is to spark controversy. Get people in the seats. Part of Justin’s genius in marketing. He was at Focus, he was a PR rep so he had that whole experience how to market a movie. Initially it was called 2%, it had more characters and was longer. 2% will not get butts in the seats so Dear White People it is. Look at the comments, those are the people that haven’t seen the movie and would probably benefit the most from seeing it. They have no idea, but Justin did his job. Started a conversation, spark some controversy, and spark some conversation in a way that hasn’t been done.
Thank you so much to Marque and the cast/crew of Dear White People.