Dear White People

17DEARWHITE-articleLargeWe see movies all the time but I rarely write about them.  Dear White People is in a separate category.  I now know why A.O. Scott, the movie reviewer at the NYTimes wrote that every person should see this film, period.

The film is Justin Simien’s first feature film and I can hardly wait to see what he makes next.  It is a comedy set on a college campus hitting on issues from race, privilege, power and diversity.  Dear White People is a radio show that is run by one of the main characters of the film, Samantha.  She herself is a product of a mixed marriage.  The show pokes at the encounters that black people feel daily in their ongoing life that white people never have to deal with such as not being served timely in a restaurant, the conversation around their hair, their lack of power on the campus.  It is funny and poignant yet uncomfortable.

The timing of Dear White People could not be more perfect.  The underlying issues on race in America continue to hit us smack in the face every day.  Ferguson, MO is dealing with the aftermath of a white policeman shooting an unarmed young black man at close range. A city with a large population of African Americans run by white Americans.  Thank god the 57 year old white man in Florida was just sentenced to life for shooting a young black man sitting in his car unarmed because his music was blaring too loud and he refused to turn it down.  What happened in Florida where Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman has race issues written all over it.  You can not help but wonder if Obama was a white man would he get the amount of turbulence and push back from the GOP and others if he was not black.

The film is beyond smart.  Undertones of so many issues in this clever comedy such as the power issues between blacks, the power issues among whites, interracial relationships, struggles of black men who want to succeed in an overpowered white mans world instead of being honest to themselves, growing up with different values and even different cuisines, being black and gay, being gay, false power that comes with privilege, diversity that is questionable, etc.  Each of the individuals in this movie are stereotypes but stand on their own two feet and Simien portrays them all in a clever way.

Dear White People is funny, well written and fun to watch yet the undertones of racism are all over the place.  It is a movie to see and a movie to be talked about and I hope it is discussed for years to come.  Simien’s voice is saying something to all of us loud and clear not only to the dear white people but also to the dear black people.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Brandon Burns

    I’m pretty immune to the effects of racially themed movies. I watch movies like Fruitvale Station and don’t even bat an eye. This movie, though, was different. It was basically my life, as it was in college and, in a lot of ways, as it still is today.What’s funny is that a lot of the jokes in the movie are funny, but they’re not funny. I laugh because I can relate to being told that “I’m not black enough,” but then that’s not really funny in the first place. The movie does a good job of walking that line, both entertaining you and making you think.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Funny but not funny. Exactly

  2. AG

    This post is very timely. For the first time the other day, I witnessed overt racism in a way I hadn’t before. I was leaving the Standard EV, the concierge was assisting someone else w cans. he finally found one for the woman before me, but when the cab driver saw that the woman was black (leaving the hotel, mind you), he pointed to me, and said, no I want her. He continued to refuse to take the black woman, until she basically hopped in, and then offered me to join her in the cab. The two of us talked about racism in the cab ride. It was truly an eye opening experience.

    1. Gotham Gal


      1. AG

        Creative director at LL Bean. I just found her on Linkedin and sent her an invite. A unique connection for sure.

  3. WA

    Apparently and artistically not going to be the “old round peg in the square hole” social commentary film. Looking forward to seeing it and thanks for the perspective.

  4. lisa hickey

    A friend of mine is an Entrepreneur/CEO. And he was asked to speak at a sales meeting in front of 100 people. He checks in the building, goes straight to the floor of the presentation room, and sits in the waiting area where there is a receptionist, working on his laptop for the few minutes before he will be brought in and announced to speak. A security guard enters shortly after, speaks to the receptionist, leaves. The receptionist tells my friend Jackie that security had been called because “there was a strange black man wandering the building.” She thought it was funny. Funny not funny indeed.Jackie has called this “the luxury of invisible privilege” that others have and don’t even see. From my conversations with him and others, I have written about how exhausting it must be to be “almost normal”, day in and day out. Jackie has told me it’s almost easier to deal with the overt racism, because it can be named and dealt with. It’s the signals he gets all the time that he is constantly being marginalized that are much worse.What is great about movies like “Dear White People” is that it makes abstract concepts like privilege and racism very real and very human. It makes the invisible, visible. Humor can go far to creating empathy. And the world could use more of both.

    1. LE

      “there was a strange black man wandering the building.”I hope it doesn’t mute the point or seem like I am saying there isn’t racism however that would happen with anyone wandering that looks “out of place”. [1]Several months ago there was a age in the 90’s white jewish man wandering on the main street out side my office (no sidewalk). I thought he was in danger. So I called the police and described him as a “90 year old white man”. He was a respectable citizen (speaks Hebrew, and seems intelligent) I’ve seen him many times in Starbucks) but I was concerned that he would get hit by a car. I even went to the Starbucks because I though his daughter might be there.My point is I don’t think, without knowing further details, that the only reason the speaker was singled out was that he was black and not for another reason (could have been of course…)I go to a large hair salon and I’m usually the only man there (other than some of the stylists). I’m sure if I wasn’t a customer, and I came in and hung around they’d be more likely to wonder what I was doing there than if I was either a women or a kid (presumed to be with a mother). I don’t think safety wise the saying “if you see something, say something” is a bad idea even at the expense of offending someone.[1] Given what has happened with some random people entering buildings and shooting I don’t think it’s a bad idea to err on the side of caution as well. Not just for that reason.

      1. lisa hickey

        I appreciate your comment and your story, but honestly, and with all due respect, this is exactly why racism is so difficult to change in our society.The first point is, this happens to Jackie all the time. This just happened to be one story. And it was more poignant to him now that he’s a CEO and it’s still happening.But in this particular case, Jackie had checked in with security at the front just like everyone else. He had walked up to where he was supposed to go just like everyone else.He wasn’t actually “strange” — anyone who had never been in that building before would be “a stranger”. He wasn’t actually “wandering” — he was going to a destination he had been told to go to.The very description that was given to security says that he was not treated like everyone else, even though he was acting like everyone else. Do you really think security goes to check on every unknown person that is in a building—after that person has already gone through security?And that is racism. It tries to create the illusion of fear, in order to deny people of color the same access, rights and privileges everyone else has.And again— that is why a film like “Dear White People” is so important—because it uses humor and storytelling to create empathy and understanding.

        1. LE

          and with all due respect, this is exactly why racismMy comment was based on the story that you told which lacked some of the details which you gave in your follow up comment.The very description that was given to security says that he was not treated like everyone elseAre you saying that because he was described as a “strange black man”? Particularly “black”?. Or was it the combo of “strange” and “black”. If you ever call the police to report suspicious activity the first thing they ask is the color of a person’s skin. Skin color and/or race is often used in medical records I see it on my wife’s reports it’s an identifier I haven’t really researched the origin or why they think it’s necessary but it’s not entirely racist either. (It could be like I said I don’t know ..)Further, you know this person and the individual who called it in does not. It’s very likely the same would have happened with a white guy dressed up like a outlaw biker someone would have said “strange white guy wandering”. Do you really think security goes to check on every unknown person that is in a building—after that person has already gone through security?If someone calls them? Absolutely they will and they should. We could do a test. We can replicate this in a building and substitute “strange white guy” for “strange black guy”. My guess is that if someone reports something that they think is suspicious someone will investigate. And wouldn’t you want them to? Or do you suggest that they ignore reports of suspicious activity thinking that’s it’s just someone being racist?Now if you are trying to say that the person making the call is racist that’s a possibility of course. I’m not saying people aren’t racist and I’m not saying that your friend hasn’t experience racism.Additionally the person making the call might not know even that the person went through security (or not even care). I mean if I was in an airport after clearing security and saw someone, and this is important, that I thought was acting strange I wouldn’t think “oh they already went through security it’s ok” I’d report it.And it was more poignant to him now that he’s a CEOI’m not sure why that should matter actually. Did he think that all the sudden when he became a CEO the world would know that he was a CEO? How would they know what his “rank” was. And taking this one step further (not to argue with you but to present an opposing view) if a person is a CEO and accused of rape or a crime are they and should they be given special treatment because “well they are a CEO and CEO’s don’t do things like that..”

  5. Charlene

    Very interesting post and good timing too!! As a resident in Europe for over 12 years but a born and bred South African, I can confirm that the “the luxury of invisible privilege” (as Lisa puts it) is very much present here. What a pity that so many here still have small minded thoughts towards people just because of their skin colour or differences. Maybe too many have been programmed to think like this in Europe for far to long and only a younger generation will break through this glass ceiling.Thank you for the post recommendation I am definitely going to go and see this movie. greetings from Paris 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Charlene.