WARNING: This review will have some spoilers. If you plan to see the movie, save this article for later.
I have to begin by saying I wasn’t too excited to see the movie when I heard about it. The title itself continues to support this narrative that we, as black people, need to make white people see our blackness and all the greatness and burdens that come with it. I frankly don’t care to divulge in conversations about race with white people unless they inquire about it, and if they do, I sometimes entertain their questions with my personal experiences. Other times I’ll direct them to literature in which the content presents black history as an integral part of American history, not as a separate and isolated history. But, I digress.
I started to get excited to see the movie when they began uploading the Dear White People one-offs. It addressed issues of racism so blatantly that I thought the movie would be blunt about these issues to white people. The movie has it’s honest moments, but only if you understand the experiences that black people have concerning racism on a daily basis. I should have known that a movie being released nationally in movie theaters could only go so far to get to the issue of racism and white privilege. This movie was marketed to appeal to a peculiar mix of an audience. It was created for white liberals who feel like they “get it,” and for black people who can relate the film to their undergraduate experiences at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). But let’s face it, the people who the producer wanted to address in this movie are not the one’s buying tickets.
When I walked out of the movie theater I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about Dear White People. I understood the references and jokes they made about being black but something about the movie didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t fully embrace the movie, but then I realized: this movie wasn’t made for me. The title of the movie is “Dear White People.” DUH!
First, there was too much going on in the movie and none of it was really explained or addressed. The movie introduced the notion of black identity and experiences when it comes to colorism, racism, microaggressions, activism, homosexuality, interracial dating, self-hate and intersectionality. The climax of the film is the ever famous hip hop/black face themed party that takes place at their school to bring light to the fact that it continues to happen all over the country, even today. The film actually never explains the problem with blackface themed hip hop parties except the fact that it will get the black activists upset and cause an all out brawl. Each of these topics could have their own movie explaining their complexities.
Secondly, the film perpetuates the stereotypes people have of black students and their experiences at PWIs. There’s the hyper-sexualized dark skin black woman, who hates the skin she’s in, the black man, who is only interested in white women and having white friends to get ahead, the black introvert, who isn’t “really black” because he listens to alternative rock and of course,the black activist, Sam, who isn’t allowed to have emotions. As the main character, Sam is introduced to audiences as a hardcore black woman fighting for the rights of black people and by the end of the movie, she is seen walking away hand-in-hand with a white man, as if these two identities could not exist co-dependently. Most of the movie illustrates that black people can only be one way and that intersection of different identities is not possible.
At the beginning of the movie, Sam brings to light the microaggressions and racism that black people continually experience by starting “Dear White People” and explaining what it looks like such as touching a black person’s hair. Towards the end of the movie, Sam concludes with, “Dear White people.. Nevermind.” My favorite part of the movie, because we should be done educating white people about our complexities, our differences and similarities yet we continue to produce films and/or shows so they can “get it.”
Ultimately, I believe the point of the movie was to start a conversation and this may have been the best way to do so. There are still so many people who underestimate the reality of racism and how embedded it is in society so the movie provides the wider audience with a glimpse into that complexity. The success of the movie should be based on the impact it has on people’s ability to talk about race in a productive and meaningful way. As much as Dear White People starts the conversation, we must ask ourselves, are we willing to continue it?