Movie review: Dear White People, it's OK to laugh (as long as you think)

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Writer-director Justin Simien’s much talked-about satire “Dear White People” comes to Columbus this week with all the stickiness you’d expect from a comedy about race. As the director recently clarified for the white people in the audience, it’s OK to laugh.

It’s also OK to think, and if you dig past the surface of “White People,” there’s plenty to think about. And laugh about.

“Dear White People” explores the lives of four black students at an Ivy League college. More to the point, it explores their experiences, which are refreshingly multi-faceted.

Sam White (Tessa Thompson) hosts a popular online video series that features her simple, blunt observations on the way white and black people interact. “Dear White People, The minimum number of black friends that you need to not seem racist has been raised to two,” she announces.

Sam is narrowly elected to head the campus black student union over Troy (Brandon P. Bell), the overachieving son of the school’s dean.

Meanwhile Coco (Teyonah Parris) navigates the social morays of being the black girl in a sea of bros (and not sharing Sam’s take on how she should act). The quiet and thoughtful Lionel (Tyler James Williams) observes it all for a story for the school paper.

One of the things that makes “Dear White People” good is one of the things that keeps it from being great. Showing multiple stories of the black-on-a-white-campus experience serves to reinforce an important idea: that experience is not homogenous.

It also makes things a bit crowded on the plot front, but Simien is generally quite good at spinning multiple plates.

It’s also a lively and deeply funny course in Race in America 101: Intro to White Privilege. There will inevitably be accusations that the film is (gasp!) racist toward white people. Which is pretty stupid, as there are plenty of archetypes at play here, even among the supporting white people.

Thompson is the heart and soul of the movie, and she delivers the breakout performance, though the whole cast is wonderful.

“Dear White People” is thoughtful, entertaining and a great starting point for discussion. That all sounds awesome to me.

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

"Dear White People"

Opens Friday

3 stars out of 4