“Dear White People” discusses racial divide

“Dear White People” is a 2014 comedic drama, co-produced, directed and written by Justin Simien. Simien is an author and filmmaker who received critical acclaim for the film at its release.

According to Samantha White, the film’s protagonist, there are three types of ways for black people to survive “in a place like this,” a predominantly white institute.

First, there’s the “One Hundred.” The One Hundred is described to be a person that is 100 percent black. Next, there is the “OOFTA,” a person who “modulates their blackness up or down depending on the crowd and what he wants from them.” Finally, there is the “Nose Job,” a person who may “smooth their black edges and try to blend in.” A “Nose Job” uses their blackness for self deprecation due to the fear that it will cause a commotion or bring unwanted attention their way.

The film took a comedic view at real-life African-American issues in one of the most transforming places in the world, college. At Winchester University, where the film is set, the inequality is brought to life with a party of about 100 people. It was a racist party where students dressed up in stereotypical clothing and blackface, which resulted in a large fight bringing attention to the university and its problems with discrimination.

As a young woman of color attending a PWI, it was thought-provoking. It made me think, “Do I fit into one of those three categories?” I found myself nodding my head in silent agreement at certain parts. It made me realize how universal the issues brought to light by this movie are.

One scene that drew my attention was when Lionel, an African-American student with an afro, found himself in an uncomfortable situation. As he sat discussing the article he would write with his two white peers, he uncomfortably allowed one to touch and tease his hair. The actor played the role perfectly. As he interacted with his peers, his body language screamed how unnerving the situation was. This scene grasped me due to how much I could relate to Lionel. I can say from personal experience that it’s unnerving when people ask to touch your hair in wonder.

I commend the film for its use of subtle aspects in the main plot. There were three prominent issues raised by the film. The black community’s treatment of its LGBTQIA community is reflected in the character of Lionel. He is an African-American man who finds himself at a middle ground, not knowing which group he is to fit into. The judgment of black men who don’t date women of color is shown through the character of Troy. He is the poster child for black excellence at his school, however the distaste on the faces of his community at his affection for his white girlfriend is evident. Finally, the judgment of black women who don’t fit into the typical mold we view they should fit into can be seen with Coco. Her character is complex, with many different sides that challenge the stereotypical view of African-American women.

However, the movie only gives these issues the spotlight for a short time before refocusing back on the main issue. Addressing these issues more in the film would have made for an even more invigorating plot.

Another piece of the film that I thought was done well was the conclusion. The end of the film is used to set up the ending credits. The university meets with a documenter who wants to capitalize on the party incident that had drawn in bad publicity. For a moment I asked myself, was this movie based on a true story? In a way, it was.

The credits display five separate incidents that could be assumed to have inspired this movie: a Bloods vs. Crips party at Dartmouth College in 2013, a Rap Party at the University of Florida in 2012, a party in which several girls dressed in blackface to represent the Huxtable Family at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011, a Pennsylvania State party that held a “Mexican” theme in 2012 and a University of California San Diego “Compton Cookout” in 2010.

These incidents are only a couple of fish in an overflowing pond of issues in our own backyard that need to be addressed.

Regardless of race, gender, creed and more, what will you do to be someone else’s ally?

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