Dear White People emerges as an unlikely response to Dubois’ question: What does it mean to be a problem? The courage of the film is in its assertion of racism as they key problem. Set at a predominately white university, Dear White People issues a compelling portrayal of racism as an institution that plagues both blacks and whites. In the display of the varying affects of racism, its similarity dwells in its abjection and corruption to all involved.
I. Perceptions of “Black” Issues as “Past” Issues
The film brilliantly captures oblivion as a form of white privilege. Specifically, the film captures how black issues are regarded as a “thing of the past” for many whites. The film’s discussion of reenactment intertwines with the mentality of white privilege, as the film’s protagonist was accused of creating conflict “to have something to fight for.” This part of the film works, because the idea of black history as a reenactment is a fallacy used to substantiate the invalidity of black emotion. There is no reenactment or resurrection of black strife as the initial conflicts have yet to truly dissipate. Society has created affirmative action, integrated schools, and with token blacks to get whites, not blacks to believe that oppression is a thing of the past. Thus, the film’s discussion of reenactment and its juxtaposition with reality television, reflects an element of white privilege that distorts the real with the re-created.
II. Follicle Fascination
I was quite pleased at the lines delivered by Everybody Hates Chris star, Tyler James Williams. Williams’ character Lionel, cleverly remarks that his afro is a “black hole for white people’s fingers.” This line is as comical as it is capturing of the invasiveness of having our hair fondled by unfamiliar hands. While on the topic of hair, I found it highly functional to feature the white female assumption of black hair. In the exchange between Coco and Sofia, Sofia crassly asked Coco if her hair was a weave. Despite its simple delivery, this line captured the conflict that black women face with regard to the perception of our hair. The power in this portrayal is that Coco donning a fake hairdo, does not make Sofia’s query any less crass or imply that Coco is a reflection on the entirety of black femininity.
III. “They want to be like us”
While on the topic of Coco, her character was probably the most uncomfortably t watch. The discomfort of Coco’s character stems from the reality of which she represents. Coco veils her insecurities the hair and clothes she uses to shield her humble beginnings. Although Coco was an uncomfortable character to watch, there is brilliance in bringing her character to the forefront. Coco is representative of blacks who are seduced by visibility. To be seen in what some may call a more favorable light, an individual dilutes their blackness. This diluting is achieved by distancing oneself from black signifiers, such as skin color, hair texture/length, and the affiliation with neighborhoods, food, and music associated with blacks-just to name a few. While some may attribute this to represent a hate for blackness, I would disagree. This behavior represents a desire from the Coco’s of the world to construct a mainstream version of themselves. It is not that these individuals doubt the beauty in blackness, but rather that they doubt the beauty in their own blackness.
While I certainly applaud the effort and execution of Dear White People as a very necessary and nuanced presence in today’s world, even the purest of intentions are not without fault.
I. The Title
The first problem I have with the film, is the title Dear White People. I will admit that my disappointment with this title is most likely due to my expectations. I suppose I anticipated that a film of such revolutionary potential, would yield a title more in line with Amira Baraka’s “SOS” which features the recurring like of “calling all black people.”
While the title Dear White People is certainly to evoke controversy and assertion, it is also cliche. The majority of black entertainment has been geared towards white entertainment and white curiosity, making Dear White People redundant in its surfaced intention. With the promise of a contemporary innovative film, it would be nice to deter away from targeting a white audience with black perspective. My comments are not to suggest that the black perspective is solely valuable to blacks. However, my remarks mean to suggest that blackness will always evoke the curiosity of other racial and ethnic factions, despite whether or not they are directly targeted.
II. Recycling of Past Tropes:
The past plays a troubling role in the film’s characters. Specifically, the lead protagonist embodies the “tragic mulatto” as she is inappropriately called by her white boyfriend. Perhaps my issue with the resurrection of this image would be qualified had the film placed perspective within the conflicts of tradition.
The film does little to advance the trope as Sam (our tragic mulatto), is conveniently battling her inner Angela Davis and Taylor Swift, embodying the tragic mulatto trope of being “caught between two worlds.”
It is also interesting that our protagonist is masculinized by her first name Sam, and racialize by her last name “White.” In a film believed to be motivated by the black experience, it is disturbing that the key character plays homage to the white male dynamic. This observation correlates to Sam’s identity also being rooted in the accepting of her relationships with her father and her boyfriend, who are both white men.
It is also of significance to mention that the placement of the “tragic mulatto” as this film’s centerpiece, is a contemporary and traditional cliche. The slot for black female actresses is typically filled by the woman of mixed heritage, so that she is black enough without being too black. This pseudo blackness, allows productions to appeal to white and black demographics, without being two much of either.
III. The “n*gga” on the low
Dear White People features the male version of Coco, in Troy. Troy is the dean’s son, and is visibly coerced into many of his life’s decisions by his father. From who he dates, to his extracurricular activities, Troy is a literal and figurative manifestation of his father’s creation. Despite the pomp and circumstance of his appearance, which consists of a collared shirt, sweater and dress pants Troy has a secret life that he represses to maintain a certain image, The film shows him locking himself in the bathroom from his white girlfriend, Sofia. In the bathroom he is seen smoking weed and writing jokes in a notepad. While the repression of his inner Kevin Hart can be seen as code-switching, it suggests that even the most polished of black men act in accordance to their stereotypes. I don’t see this depiction any different, than featuring Troy locking himself in the bathroom at a predominately white event to eat fried chicken and slurp watermelon.
IV. The omission of black love
As a supposed revolutionary film of black perspective, I was disappointed in the failure to feature black love as the happily ever after. Dear White People features the protagonist’s unveiled romance with a white male as the film’s happily ever after. While I can understand, the elation of being loved for who
you are, the films revolutionary appeal seems slightly lessened. Contemporary culture has seduced many to believe that interracial relationships are a way to push against “the man,” but in some ways this phenomenon caused us to push away from ourselves.
Even if I choose to not sulk over the lack of black couples riding off into the sunset, it would be hard to ignore that Dear White people only features black on black relations at night.
Exhibit A: We see the black girl who wants out of her skin, hair and socio-economics, and a black man who represses his inner Chris rock for a Bryant Gumble persona, find one another in the sheets of his dorm room. As they smoke weed and exchange bare thoughts over bare bodies, the audience is delivered a harsh reality when he no longer desires her company in the daylight. Seemingly limited to the company of a biracial or white woman, the black women not birthed with any transitional attributes, is rejected as a prospect by the black man.
Exhibit B: The protagonist’s stolen kiss by her comrade, also takes place at night. This is in dramatic contrast to her relations with her white suitor, whom she solely interacts with privately during the day.
The placement of black on black interaction during the nighttime, veils these encounters with implications of lust or secrecy. The inability of blacks to love one another in the daytime, mirrors a past where black on black relations went unacknowledged and were similarly carried on at night and in secret. Black love is as beautiful as it is as bold. The strength to love ourselves in a world vying to persuade us to love our oppressors, is strengthened by the ability to love one another.
Despite my analysis. I do find Dear White People to be a step on the right direction. Comments such as “when is dear black people coming out?” illustrate the importance of such a movie in our contemporary world. This commenter, clearly operating from a position of privilege, overlooks the reality that the dear black people is silently engraved in several movies, sitcoms and news stories With every slain black youth- dear black people your lives are optional. As whites continue to dominate education, white collar positions and entertainment- dear blacks we are occupying your 40 acres (and then some) and riding your mule. As whites continue to occupy a position of forgetfulness regarding the journey of blacks in America, dear black people slavery wasn’t so bad. Even as society claims a post racial status, blackness in a white world will always place blacks in a position of presumed inferiority and difference.
Nevertheless, I can only hope that Dear White People, plants a seed of courage in screen writers and film makers. May their courage continue to expand on the black story, while embracing the power that comes with shaping or altering perception.