Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sundance movie nine: Were they talking to me?

Director/writer Justin Simien and other members
of the production team and cast.
Dear White People. I guess if that's the title of your movie, I have to assume that director and writer Justin Simien was talking to me.  The movie is a rollicking satire that raises a surprisingly complex set of issues. It doesn't matter what your race is, there will be moments in this movie when the filmmakers will make you feel uncomfortable. And  that might be the reason the movie succeeds.

The story introduces us to Samantha White, a biracial student at Winchester University.  Sam opens her militant radio show with, "Dear White Poeple, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two.  Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn't count." And with that, a strange tension is created as the movie pits blacks against blacks, whites against whites, blacks and whites against each other.  And yet, the movie never feels mean spirited or angry.  Well, sometimes Sam and company are angry but only in the "hey that's kind of funny" sort of a way.

The most uncomfortable moment of the movie for me involved a party.  An all-white residential hall hosts an African American-themed party.  Turns out this is a thing on college campuses across the country; white students assuming black identities for fun and frivolity.  It all comes across as extremely insensitive and out of touch. It's definitely an awkward (yet effective) moment in the movie

Dear White People revels in making fun of stereotypes.  There was only one stereotype that didn't seem like a joke.  That was the portrayal of the gay black student.  While all the straight, black men in the movie are visions of masculinity, the gay student Lionel is effeminate and mousy. That might have been interesting if it too had been played for laughs. Instead, it just seems to further a tire stereotype.

Like many of my favorite movies at Sundance, this is a story I haven't seen before at the movies. Also like many of my favorite movies it's a little rough around the edges. For its inventiveness, humor, and social commentary, this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.

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