Yesterday marked the end of Black History Month and today I finally got around to watching Dear White People, only a month late! I have to be honest that I didn’t really understand what was going on, although the beginning of the film was very well designed and made me want to keep watching.
The film follows a group of black students at Winchester University in the USA where they are far outnumbered by white people. One student, Samantha White, is particularly outraged at the inequality between black and white people and uses her radio show, entitled ‘Dear White People’, to voice her criticisms of the white students. The film follows her winning the role of Head of House for the all-black house on campus and the tensions that ensue, as well as documenting the inequality both through Sam’s eyes and from a wider perspective.
Not greatly understanding the film, I cannot comment on the interactions between characters, but one thing that was very clear to me was the amount that they were regarded as second-class citizens and looked down on by the white students. This is particularly explored at the end of the film and through White’s venomous attacks on white behaviour. The response to this from fellow student Coco is also of great interest, as she sees Sam as more popular to everyone due to her bi-racial position (and therefore lighter skin colour). This emphasises the variations in treatment that black people receive in society – dual racism in a sense.
The one thing that bothered me in the film was the intense focus on black lives. In one sense, with the satirical element and subject matter of the film, this makes complete sense. It is a film about the black experience from the perspective of the people who are experiencing that. I am pretty sure it also passes the racial version of the Bechdel test (where there are two or more black characters who talk to each other about something other that race). However, it almost certainly doesn’t pass the reverse racial Bechdel test – there are multiple white characters who talk to each other, but all the conversations I can remember involved them talking about race. I would have liked to see further exploration of the white people who weren’t out to get them, but then Sam’s vitriolic treatment of and alienation from the white community doesn’t lend itself to that. If the film wasn’t satirical this would have annoyed me far more than it has, and in fact the black focus is even alluded to within the film, where Sam discusses how a black person can’t be racist. Personally I feel that is a view which is inherently racist when you think about what racism really means: discrimination or mistreatment on the basis of someone’s racial background.
A well presented look at continuing inequality of race, albeit one that requires concentration to follow properly. Two stars.