Monday, October 27, 2014

[Movie Review] Dear White People


If you're a white person who was hoping that Dear White People would tell you how you should feel (or even how black people feel) about affirmative action, randomized housing for students, or even race-relations in general, then I'm afraid you've got another thing coming; this isn't a movie about answers, it's a movie about questions. Like everything related to race (and sex, and gender, and sexual preference, and politics) in America, this film is thorny and complex, full of pitfalls, and doesn't really give us a sense of closure, or that anything has been "resolved".

It's also pretty funny and very smart , though I got the impression that if I were black, or knew more about black culture, that it would have been even funnier (judging from the number of times that half the audience laughed uproariously while the other half sat there with a blank look on their faces). I caught a few words and phrases that I remembered from my African American Lit class (like "the talented tenth"), and a few I knew on my own ("mulatto", "HBCUs"), but some were totally unknown to me ("redbone"), and by the time I had realized that I didn't have a clue what they meant, the actors were already two sentences ahead of me, and sometimes this meant that I lost the thread of the conversation entirely. Everyone in this movie is very smart and well-spoken, so dialogue moves along at a steady clip, not waiting very long for anything to sink in.

Dear White People does an excellent job of calling people out on their BS, but it also refuses steadfastly to pick a side. No viewpoint in this movie is presented as "right", and even the de facto "villains" of the film (the mostly-white student satire magazine editors who throw a 'hood-themed Halloween party) raise a few points which, while crass, are still difficult to dismiss outright. In the end, we're left to draw our own conclusions about what really happened, who did what, and what we should do next.

I would give this film a higher rating, because I really wanted to like it (and I did!), but the fact is that I was confused at several points in this movie. Part (maybe even most) of this was due to my own lack of familiarity with the signals and lexicon of black culture, but I feel like I can't be held entirely responsible if the movie wasn't highly comprehensible to its audience.

And that's another thing: it's not totally clear to me who the intended audience of this movie is supposed to be. Obviously it can't be entirely directed at black people if the title itself explicitly addresses white people, but it felt more like the director was trying to start a conversation within the black community about how it relates to white culture and to itself (and in particular, LGBT black people and interracial couples), rather than trying to build bridges to the white community.

 Then again, I feel like I'm a little more well-versed in the various arguments that are floating around out there in Black America's shared consciousness (and White America's, for that matter), so I guess that Dear White People accomplished its goal after all.