A college student pumps up the volume about racism in the college comedy film Dear White People, which offers a satirical and thought-provoking look at American stereotypes.
Veronica Mars alum Tessa Thompson plays Sam White, a black student activist at the predominantly white and fictional Ivy League school Winchester University. She mocks racial stereotypes on her radio show and defends her views to her peers, including fellow African-American students (watch the trailer above. Warning: Contains offensive language). Racial tensions escalate when several students throw a Halloween party and encourage attendees to arrive in blackface.
The movie also focuses on three other black students, played by Everybody Hates Chris' Tyler James Williams, Mad Men's Teyonah Parris and Switched at Birth's Brandon P. Bell. Other cast members include former 24 star and Allstate insurance spokesmodel Dennis Haysbert, who plays the college's dean, and fellow Veronica Mars alum Kyle Gallner, who plays a white frat guy who challenges White.
Dear White People was directed and written by Justin Simien. He who won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival for the movie, his first feature film.
"It's called Dear White People, but the movie itself is not actually a rant to white people," Simien said on The Colbert Report this week. "The movie actually focuses on identity. It focuses on these kids in a world where micro-aggressions and covert racism occur and talks about kind of the difficulty of finding yourself in a place that doesn't necessarily reflect you."
Check out what five critics said about Dear White People, which hit theaters on Friday.
1. Rolling Stone's Peter Travers gives the movie three-and-a-half out of four stars, calling it a "comic riff on race relations in the [President Barack] Obama era that hits its targets far more than it misses."
"The fun is nonstop, the cast is top-tier and Simien is a talent to watch. What are you waiting for?" he writes.
2. The New York Times' A. O. Scott says Dear White People is "knowing but not snarky, self-aware but not solipsistic, open to influence and confident in its own originality."
"It's a clever campus comedy that juggles a handful of hot potatoes—race, sex, privilege, power—with elegant agility and only an occasional fumble," he adds. "You want to see this movie, and you will want to talk about it afterward, even if the conversation feels a little awkward. If it doesn't, you're doing it wrong. There is great enjoyment to be found here and very little comfort."
"Everyone should see this movie, and everyone will see it a little differently," he adds. "Maybe you will think it goes too far, or not far enough."
3. Slate's Aisha Harris says Simien showcases "many smart, relevant thoughts on race." However, she did not find the movie humorous.
"You're full of good ideas and righteous anger," she says about the movie. "I just wish you were funny, too."
"Dear White People is the kind of movie where frank conversations about race play out all the time (cool!) but they're delivered primarily via impassioned speeches in nearly every scene (ugh)," she writes, adding, "I nodded my head in agreement many times while watching Dear White People, but I can't say I was ever truly compelled by the story it tells."
4. IndieWire's Zeba Blay says that Dear White People "is a political film," but that "it would do it a disservice to slap it with something like 'race-themed' and send it on its way."
"Because with all its nuance, Dear White People is funny. Like, really funny," she writes. "And for the black viewer, a cathartic kind of funny."
"There are things in this film that will make some people, both white and black, squirm," she adds. "Probably because they're true."
5. Variety's Justin Chang says that while Dear White People "veers toward smugness and self-satisfaction at times, the Spike-Lee-lite exercise nonetheless heralds a fresh and funny new voice on the scene" in Simien, who is "bolstered by an excellent cast that should find an especially appreciative audience among young black moviegoers."
"Whether a significant portion of white viewers accept the invitation extended by the title remains to be seen," he adds.