Film review rating: **
Kensal Green, London NW10
Film review date: Sunday 19th July 2015
Starring: Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P Bell and Kyle Gallner.
Writer and Director: Justin Simien
Dear White People was the talk of the town in July. Curiously it is not a new film, since it was initially released on 17th October 2014 in America. It had one screening in London in November that year and following demands that it be shown in England it had a premiere and nationwide release in July 2015.
The film is set on a fictional Ivy league university, Winchester University. Some of the African-American students are exasperated by how the majority white students view them, especially seeing them as being one, homogenous group. Sam White one of the most vocal of the African-Caribbean students broadcasts a weekly radio show called ‘Dear White People’ which gives the film it’s title. Through weekly broadcasts and her book, ‘Ebony & Ivy’, she highlights different issues of concern to the Black students – racism, sexism, gender roles, homophobia, politics, class and various stereotypes etc…
That’s a lot of heavyweight issues and therein lies one of the films biggest problems. The film tries to cover far too many issues, such that none are really satisfactorily explored. Much like the characters, whom we don’t really get to know that well or even care that much for. The key to any good film is character development and having believable characters that the viewer cares about – whether that is in hoping that they succeed or fail in their endeavours. You have to try and create some form of passionate interest in them and their stories or the film can become un-interesting. This film failed to do that. The key players came across more like cardboard cut out characters – the alpha male, the pretty one, the academic one’s, the hip and the gay one. They needed to be more fleshed out characters.
The method of exploring racial tensions didn’t really work out at all. Towards the end there was a party episode where the white students “blacked up” and dressed up as black people, but it didn’t really seem real. For a start, I wouldn’t expect highly educated students at a prestigious university to be carrying on like that. Something about it was just too juvenile for starters. The attempts to bring the party to a close seemed contrived, over the top and somewhat irrelevant as those students weren’t really the problem. The real problem at the moment is the American Police force and white supremacists, not white Ivy league students enjoying a frat party, however dubious the theme may have been.
Above all, the movie lacked dramatic tension, again another vital element for any good film or story. This was a shame as there was clearly plenty of scope for it, for instance when the former boyfriend (Troy Fairbanks, son of the school Dean) and girlfriend (Sam White) went up against each other for President of the Black Students Union. There could and should have been more made of this in the build up or post election result, but it wasn’t. Perhaps because it didn’t tick one of the big political themes boxes.
It was a watchable, reasonably entertaining film, but as an issues driven movie, the arguments the film makers wanted to get across could have been delivered more comprehensively and cogently through an academic article.
Review © Tiemo Talk of the Town
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