While the movie-going situation here in Tucson does seem to get a bit better all the time, we're still a little slow to get some movies, so while the big city folks have been raving about Dear White People for a few weeks, we've had to be patient. Thankfully, we only have to wait until Nov. 7, since the satire of race-relations in modern America opens at the Loft that week (along with The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the Daniel Radcliffe horror film Horns and the documentary Last Days in Vietnam).
All that said, the writer-director is also not afraid to polemicize and let his characters stand on soapboxes, even address the camera. It works because — like Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing and even Jean-Luc Godard back in the 1960s — he knows to playfully challenge his characters’ stridency. At one point, in a scene you can also view in the film’s teaser trailer, Samantha and other kids from the Black Student Union confront a movie-theater employee over the offensive stereotyping in Tyler Perry movies. “Can we have a movie with, you know, characters in them instead of stereotypes wrapped in Christian dogma?” Samantha asks. “Uh, most people are here to see Fang 9,” the nervous employee replies, helpfully adding, with a shrug, “It’s got 2 Chainz in it.” Sometimes, a little undercutting helps to prove your broader point.
Okay, I’ve thrown a lot of big names around — Spike Lee, Godard, Kubrick — but I’m genuinely wowed by Simien’s ability to juggle big ideas while not losing sight of his characters, by his gorgeously assured filmmaking, by the little pirouettes of dead-on observation that dance between the film’s broader strokes. Dear White People and its director are the real deal. This is one of the best feature-filmmaking debuts of recent years.
As a bonus, the Dear White People YouTube channel is turning out some hilarious short videos to promote the film: