The subtitle is A Satire about Being a Black Face in a White Place
This is a movie very much about place, and what each character’s place is in the place. The white place is an ivy league school named Winchester with all the trappings of privilege. A mixed race girl named Sam White (Tessa Thompson) has a popular radio broadcast/ blog called Dear White People which humorously takes white people to task for the continuously racist behavior they indulge in.
Coco (Brittany Curran), with long straight black hair and blue contact lenses, aspires to be cast in a reality show. Her youtube channel begins by addressing Dear Muffin and gets a fraction of the hits Sam’s does.
Troy (Brandon Bell) who is black and Kurt (Kyle Gallner) who is white are sons of the dean and president respectively. They both have oedipal issues and are very sure of themselves. Troy is dating Sofia, Kurt’s sister. Dear White People, Sam says, “Don’t date a black person just to piss off your parents.”
Lionel (Tyler James Williams) tries to get back into his house at the beginning of the semester only to find it locked, and a hostile obscene message on Kurt’s answering machine. Kurt is head of that house which is mostly white.
The black student union tries to wrest back the right to live where you want, even if it is an all black house. Some of the subject of the movie is housing– where you live determines who you are. Who you hang with defines your values. At the center of this is Lionel, who everyone has pegged as gay. He is painfully shy, has a big Afro, sort of stumbles around but is extremely observant.
Sam has the most power because she says what she thinks all the time, or seems to. Underneath her toughness she is a big softie, in love with a white guy. She keeps getting calls from her mother about her dad who seems to be suffering from a mysterious illness.
The movie culminates in a Halloween party where the white kids dress in black-face, and the black kids descend on it and call it for what it is, overtly racist, not funny or satirical. .
The acting is excellent, and I expect to see a lot more of Tessa Thompson.
The movie is clever and pointed, funny and tender in all the right places, a refreshing satire of how things are. In light of the recent conflicts at the University of Missouri, it is more relevant than ever. But regardless of your race, the struggles young people face– separating from your parents and establishing not only your independence but your identity–are universal.