Authentic Black (Afro-American/Black Minority Ethnic etc) voices are often hard to find in mainstream popular cinema. Events in America over the last year have highlighted that racism has never gone away and the dark shadow of institutionalised racism. Justin Simien sets his début feature, Dear White People, in the privileged halls of a prestigious Ivy League college, and the lens of accusation is pointed in myriad directions.
When Sam White (Tessa Thompson) wins the election for president of Armstrong/Parker, the all black house on campus, it sets the cat amongst the pigeons. With her own radio show, Dear White People, and a radical group of supporters, she usurps the airbrushed former president, and Dean’s son, Tyler (Tyler James Williams). Then there’s the President’s son, Kurt (Kyle Gallner), who seemingly controls entrance to more loftier halls and privileges. As the students vie for power and attention, the forthcoming gueslist-only Halloween party is likely to be something else.
Whilst Dear White People can be labelled as satire, it is not a smug commentary from someone with all the answers. Class, race and racial politics, and wealth lock horns as everyone comes under Simien’s microscope. The best satires use a circuitous route, and whilst on the surface it seems head-on, there’s much more going on if you allow yourself to see it. Dear White People is not a sermon. It begs the questions whilst never having the temerity to suggest it knows the answers, it’s a brilliantly observed, intelligent piece of film-making.
Dear White People is released on EST by Signature Entertainment on 20 October. It’s available on VOD & DVD 2 November.