Movie Review: “Dear White People” – Ebony, Identity, and Ivy

Written by Samah Ali January 08, 2015

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 “You’re only technically black!”

People come to terms with their identity while pursuing/finalizing their college degrees, and most movies take advantage of this period of soul searching: “The Graduate” , “Tiny Furniture“, something in Judd Apatow filmography. It’s a fragile time where one may become reclusive as they ponder their identity crisis questions, but for some their identity goes beyond their beliefs and opinions. Cue “Dear White People”, a movie that dives into the lives of four black students in an Ivy League school as they consider who they are and what they believe in. Despite its seat-shifting title, the movie has a refreshing take on self-actualization revolving around what it means to be a black student in a predominantly white school, let alone society.

Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) is an outcast who finds himself too black for the white kids and to white for the blacks. Bombarded with racial and sexual ideologies, he has no idea where he fits in and who to go to for help. Sam White (Tessa Thompson) is not an activist; rather she is a Banksy-like initiator of unaddressed issues and her passive-aggressive Youtube Channel “Dear White People” publicizes her views to the rest of their university. Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) is a black girl who rejects any label that reminds of her race. Some may say she’s in denial, but she chooses to let her character define who she is and not her skin. And Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell) is the mini-Obama poster child that allows other’s to dictate what he does with his life, emphasis on his father. These four profiles struggle with their identity in a school that forces assimilation down their throats, but don’t worry, “racism is over in America!”

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Amongst the range of students seen throughout the film, these four characters carry the weight of various black students in universities today. Lost somewhere between race and personality, each character struggled with their inherent appearance from their white counterparts while determining who they want to be in life. The most relatable stories were seen with Lionel and Sam’s characters, finally debuting the all-to-common-but-never-depicted black students: Lionel, who struggled with his race conflicting with his interests, a product of racial ideologies and stereotypes; and Sam, a biracial woman who fits in with the black kids, but feels like she has to overcompensate for her mixed ethnicity. The tales were fresh and truthful and produced a raw film that pushed more boundaries then the title itself.

“There is nothing hood about me.”

Writer-Director Justin Simien changed the game. Not only did he emphasize that Madea can only do so many things and shows that perpetuate black stereotypes, but he brought to light the true problem of ignorance. With our diverse world, it is easy to make a common mistake about nationality, but assumptions, comments and stereotypes that label/demean and entire race is not only racist but also a lack of respect and compassion. Simple phrases like “he’s cute for a black boy” highlight the product of colonialism in our society, not to mention the problematic acceptance of black-face parties. The irony of the movie is the lack of acknowledgement the university’s President and white population had for cultural insensitivity for different races across the board; even though the movie was primarily focused on black students, its principle is shared with all ethnicities. It’s a lovely thing to not recognize your privilege, but to degrade others by saying racism is over when “Dear White People” didn’t even circulate to most university cities shows the real need for a movie like this. A commendable script and delivery by Simien, and for the probable troubles he had when circulating this movie.

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“Dear White People” is a movie to be seen by all. Tackling identity and differences in our racially diverse world, it opens the floor to discussions of improving ignorance and cultural insensitivity. Easily comparable as the “Do the Right Thing” of our generation, it will remain as a timeless film for years to come.

Rating: 9/10

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About Samah Ali

Samah Ali

With a deep admiration for film, television, and music, Samah spends most of her free time expressing and sharing her love for the arts. Studying Creative Writing at Western University, she enjoys writing about film & music and shapes her passions with the latest movie or album available.

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