Dear White People Shines At Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival is the premiere location where films that break the tried and true form of Hollywood get an opportunity to score major distribution deals. Films such as Reservoir Dogs, Clerks, Memento and Napoleon Dynamite have gone on to see success. When it comes to African American films, Sundance has also been a great destination for films such as Precious, Beasts of the Southern Wild and last year’s Fruitvale Station to garner critical acclaim.
The 2014 festival was no different as several African American films took center stage. Perhaps the most buzzed about of them all was the Justin Simien-directed Dear White People. A biting yet humorous take on race in a supposedly post-racial America, Dear White People is set in a fictional Ivy League university. It is far more than a film for your eyes; it doubles as food for the brain and a conversation starter.
Starring Tyler James Wiggins, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Paris and Brandon P. Bell, the movie features several protagonists who struggle with the duality of their racial makeup. Are they black enough for black people or is their blackness a facade for white people to accept? Racial complexity is a unique predicament in this day and age where we are bombarded with images that suggest we live in a post-racial America, but are still trapped in the tropes of racism that remind us that we are still not on a level playing field.
Simien’s film may have many laugh out loud moments, but once you are done laughing, you are left to wonder what you were chuckling at and question what people of other racial backgrounds are entertained by. The summary is below courtesy of Sundance.
At prestigious Winchester University, biracial student Samantha White begins her radio show, “Dear White People, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn’t count.” Sam becomes president of the all-black residential hall Parker/Armstrong, whose existence is facing extinction in the name of diversification. TV reality show “Black Face/White Place” smells gold in Sam’s story and decides to follow it, rejecting the proposal of fellow black student Coco Conners, who pitched her show “Doing Time at an Ivy League”. The clamor over Sam’s rise also becomes a career-defining opportunity for black misfit Lionel Higgins when he is asked to join the school’s lily-white newspaper staff to cover the controversy, even though he secretly knows little about black culture.
The film screened several times at Sundance with a full house and a standing ovation at each screening. I attended the screening at the massive Eccles Theater and not a single seat was empty. Simien took home the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, and it is likely that you’ll see the movie in theaters sooner than later. But, for now, you can check out the concept trailer below.