Film Review: Dear White People


Justin Simien’s Dear White People is a witty satire on race relations that has a very contemporary feel.

When the only black fraternity at a US university is threatened with closure, some of the students are up in arms. With race relations becoming fraught, issues reach a head in the run up to an ill-advised party…

Writer-director Justin Simien’s directorial debut is energetic, amusing and pertinent. Dear White People plays on actual incidents to craft a story which is both witty and socially relevant.

Simien’s crafts both the narrative and his characters with care and attention. The well drawn characters exhibit the various strands that the film is preoccupied with. Dear White People is smart with its depictions. At first, the film appears to offer stereotypes, but Simien subverts this for the most part to deliver something more complex.

Dear White People makes some pertinent points about the representation of black people in, both in the media and society as a whole. Set in a US college, the film focuses on the narratives of various students. The over-arching theme of Dear White People is identity. Simien’s film is at its strongest when it concentrates on the conversations between a small number of characters, rather than the more climactic sequences.

The narrative of Dear White People plays out well. The film flashbacks to five weeks from the opening gambit, tempting viewers with tensions coming to a head. The crux of the film is not so far-fetched, as the end credits illustrate. Humour works well throughout Dear White People. There are laugh-out-loud moments, but usually the humour is more subtle than this.

Tessa Thompson offers a strong performance as college DJ Sam. Tyler James Williams also stands out amongst the ensemble cast. Kathryn Bostic score offers a good accompaniment to the on-screen action.

Dear White People is a film that entertains, offers a fresh viewpoint, and above all feels relevant. Justin Simien is certainly one to watch.

Dear White People was screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.