Movie review: Dear White People (2015)

Under the veil of exploring racism, Dear White People actually explores identity. Race complicates the matter but doesn’t cause the problem of figuring out who one is.

Dear White People takes place at a prestigious ivy league college where whites and blacks attempt to mix through random housing assignments. Students at the traditional black house see the random housing assignment as an attack on their black support system. The races mix uneasily with the focus on whites and blacks, though Asians and Latinos play a supporting role in one scene.

The students are wading through landmines, trying to figure out who they are. Several students are proxies in the ongoing war between their high-powered fathers, one a moronic white guy who barely made it through college—the current president of the university—and one an intelligent black guy who works to overcompensate for the lesser role he has—the dean of student affairs.

Their sons and daughter pay the price, trying to figure out who they are: white girlfriend to a black guy, punk white guy coasting on his white privilege and protected by daddy, black guy striving hard not to live up to white expectations of his blackness.

A black woman from the south side of Chicago desperately seeks fame by staring in a reality show. Attracted to white men only, she finds herself with a black man…and turning on the monster she created. She rejects her past, claiming there is nothing hood about her.

The token militant black woman comes to grip with her own identity as a child of a mixed marriage. Slowly she comes to un-black herself and accept her white boyfriend.

The black journalist finds acceptance among other black students after he finds his voice and releases his own outrage. Originally a loner, set apart through his sexual identity, when he takes action against a white blackface party, he finds himself enveloped by the black community.

Explicitly about racism, Dear White People is actually about finding out who one is among the landmines of other’s expectations and one’s own experiences. What does it mean to be white or black? Are those terms even meaningful given that there is no monolithic white identity or monolithic black identity?

There is only the black woman looking for recognition, the mixed-race woman making films, the black introverted journalist striving to break into the field, the black man seeking his father’s approval. Their identities don’t come from their gender, their race, or their sexual identity. Their identities come from their personal life experiences and who they are inside.

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