Dear White People (2014) ****

Thought filmmaker Justin Simien claims Dear White People is not about racism but rather about identity and how a person understands themselves to be, there is no denying that skin color plays a major part in the story. Dear White People is a satire about the relationships between Caucasians and African-Americans at an Ivy League college. It was written and directed by Simien, inspired by his own personal experiences during his college days, and is staring Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P Bell, Kyle Gallner, Brittany Curran, Marque Richardson and Dennis Haysbert.
Dear White People is, at times, smart, sharp, unapologetic, and very humorous, but is it also, more often than it wishes to be, surrendering to clichés and stereotypes, especially in its handling of non-Black characters. If Simien is trying to show how the White media handles African-Americans by projecting a reverse image, his perception is quite different than mine. That is not to say that racism belongs in our past; it still quite live and well in America, but Simien’s treatment of Whites reduces from the film’s honesty, whether intended as a satire or not.
In interviews Simien also rejects a comparison between himself and Spike Lee. Indeed Spike Lee he is not, though in watching Dear White People there is a sense that if Lee was twenty five years younger, it is possible that this would have been a film of his making.
The film seems to have two almost separate parts – the first is more comic in nature, highly stylized and dealing with labels. The latter part has stronger dramatic elements and seems intent on going deeper. While the sudden change in story-telling style is somewhat disturbing, it does, in a sense, accommodates the plot itself as in its second part Dear White People does away with many of the masks most of its characters wore earlier on.
While I find plenty of issues with Dear White People is it still a daring and noteworthy film, and a promising debut for filmmaker Simien.