Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
If Spike Lee and Wes Anderson had a baby, and that baby grew up and decided to make a movie incorporating both its daddies’ visual styles and political views, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with Justin Simien’s Dear White People. Yes indeed! In addition to explorations and indictments of racism, this movie has a very quirky, colorful, off-beat aesthetic. Perfectly symmetrical shots, sets with pastel color schemes, whip pans–these are some visual tricks featured in Dear White People that you might expect to find in, say, Moonrise Kingdom, or the Grand Budapest Hotel. And while these techniques are perfectly fine, and work in those latter films, which are intentionally weird and silly, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to a discussion of race relations on a college campus. And that, loved ones, is just one reason why I didn’t much care for Dear White People. There are others, to be sure, but I’ll get to those in a minute.
For those of you who don’t know, Dear White People is an independent comedy-drama that came out in 2014. It’s a movie that’s garnered a great deal of acclaim, and criticism, since its release at the Sundance Film Festival. And after watching it on Netflix, I can understand why. It’s witty, it’s well-acted, and it seeks to address the issue of race in a modern context. The problem is, it doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. It drastically shifts its tone several times–moving from the sharply funny, to the sentimental, to the downright messed up. And, as if the inconsistent narrative voice and inappropriately light-hearted visuals weren’t confusing enough, the movie even gets its morals mixed up.
See, the film centers around a controversial “African-American themed” Halloween party thrown on a college campus, and the events that lead up to it. The climax is not unlike the one in Do The Right Thing. The college’s Black students, outraged at the party, trash the building where it is being held, and start a fight with the people who threw it. The conflict gets so bad that the police have to be called in. And yet, after all that, no one gets punished, or arrested. No one learns ANYTHING. And as if that weren’t outrageous enough, in the movie’s epilogue, the school President is shown making a deal with a reality TV company to make a documentary about the incident.
The hell, man?
Look, I understand the need for a discussion of race. I really do. I’ve written about it here on my blog, and it features in most of my creative work. On top of that, I feel that things like the film’s “African-American” Halloween Party are all too common on school campuses, and should be addressed. Just look at where I go–NYU. This year, the faculty actually had to cancel a production of “The Mikado,” because the cast consisted entirely of White actors in Yellow Face. The fact that stuff like this is still happening tells you how much some people need sensitivity lessons. And yet, with all that said, if you’re going to make a serous drama about racism, make a serous drama about racism. Don’t have the visuals be happy and colorful. Don’t have the movie be a laugh-out-loud comedy one minute, and an intense, gritty drama in another. And, while I understand the need for ambiguity and nuance in a discussion of race, don’t let the perpetrators of racism in your film go completely unpunished. Have some moral clarity.
Loved ones, I didn’t care for Dear White People at all, and yet, I can’t help but recommend you all go see it. There’s some really good acting and dialogue in here, and when you watch this movie, you can tell that a lot of thought and effort was put into it. It’s the kind of film that’s designed to be controversial–that’s designed to provoke discussions and differences of opinion–so, to that end, I have to recommend that you all see it. I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s just me. Maybe you will. Maybe you’ll disagree with me. Maybe you’ll find it very relevant, and very profound. I don’t know. You have to see it for yourself. For me, though, it’s just a 6.5 out of 10.