Lessons From…Dear White People

Alright, immediately off the bat, I did not really like Dear White People. It might have been because I was waiting for this movie for some time, but honestly I genuinely believe it simply was not executed well. Before I get into too much details, watch this trailer:

Okay, so the film is contemporary considering the slew of “less than fully appropriate” themed parties on college campuses put on by fraternities and sororities. Seriously, just Google it and you’ll understand. On top of that, it has actors of merit and actual talent. More on top of that, it is taking a pretty easy view to defend and build off of for narrative impact without getting into “preachy” territory. It should have been such a simple sell; instead, we were treated to an uneven, seemingly unfinished, and unsatisfying experience. Even so, any film can be analyzed, so as always SPOILERS ahead.

Still liking this. Though I might change it if no one notices.

Still liking this. Though I might change it if no one notices.

If you watched the trailer, you have a basic comprehension of what the movie is about. Here in lies one of my biggest complaints with this film: it is attempting to discuss racism but never actually gets around to any legitimate discussion of racism. There are two moments before the epic racist “Ghetto” themed party near the film’s conclusion that sort of talk about racism but those conversation are extremely superficial while relying heavily on pop culture quips and substituting quick, pithy speech for intelligent or witty analysis. There is a constant stream of accusations of racism without any seemingly actual racism being present.

Now, someone could argue that this is intentional. Since most racism in the country is no longer transparent and open, the movie simply underlies the racism found in everyday encounters until the allowed released within the parameters of the party. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the film is intentionally this meta, here’s the first lesson: Being meta is not a substitute for good storytelling or a sign of intelligence. Most often it is self-indulgent bullshit. Any one who wants to ever create something, pay close attention to the previous statement. Meta is the first term you learn in any criticism course regardless of the field. It is also the laziest.

This scene occurs after a cinema employee accused of racism in Hollywood basically shrugs.

This scene occurs after a cinema employee accused of racism in Hollywood basically shrugs.

And if you do not believe there was any sense of self indulgence in this film, allow me to rectify that. One of the stories involves the female lead, Sam, trying to succeed in her film class. Her first film is basically a silent short about white people freaking out and causing chaos after Obama was elected and re-elected president. That is not hyperbole or a poor summary. That is literally the short film presented in her film class. Understandably, no one in the class is a fan. At the end of the film, she presents her latest work titled “Black Faces” in which she interviews a few people about their reactions to the party. What was shown was incomplete, unclear, and self-congratulatory. Again this was for a film, not journalism, class and this was received with applause and congratulations. Quick second lesson: If your creative work was unanimously liked or approved by a college class, you fucked up somewhere along the way; guaranteed.

So, to recap, the sole black film student in the movie made a film about black people that ultimately did not actually say anything that was universally enjoyed by her entire college film class. This movie was self-indulgent as hell!

Yeah, I said it and you know it's true, DWP.

Yeah, I said it and you know it’s true, DWP.

The most disappointing aspect is that there are some quality moments that deal with identity and race without being self-indulgent or idiotic. In fact, they could even be considered poignant and noteworthy, but they are far too few within the scope of the film. One of these scenes involves Sam once again.

At the very end of the film, she talks to her boyfriend about why she is the way she is and why her performance as “black” was so important to her as a biracial person. Sam relates the story of how her father would try to walk her to school, and she would notice several people (kids, teachers, parents, etc.) looking at them with something in their eyes that she did not see when she was with her mother. Her response to this new view was to essentially throw a fit and run from her father whenever this situation occurred.

Not the best response obviously, but understandable coming from a child. This early shame made Sam realize that she did not quite fit in to the preset boxes/parameters, not necessarily because of her own quirks, personality of identity but because of how others saw her. This desire to fully assimilate and be seen as “black” by her contemporaries and peers makes Sam reject or hide certain aspects of her personality, desires, and life because of the riff it would cause between her life and the perception of who she is. Which brings us to the next lesson: You cannot let past shame or guilt define you. Learn from these mistakes but always move on.

Had the film focused on these moments of identity and acceptance, it would have been a great film. Hell, had anything of substance or worth been said, seen, or discussed, it would have been a worthy film. Instead, we got a half-formed idea of a film that ended up not going through with its intended message and left a lackluster possibility for more. This brings us to the final lesson of the film: When you ask for the microphone/megaphone, you better have something to say.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

2 thoughts on “Lessons From…Dear White People

  1. Message movies, man. They all suck.

    Best medium for a psychological study, as unconscious racism might require? The novel, specifically by Russians. Medium for describing the causes and effects of institutionalized racism? Non-fiction, specifically boring. Best medium to pander to the widest audience by triggering but not offending anyone’s social sensibilities. Film, due to its vastly greater overhead costs.

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