A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear White People is an edgy satirical comedy about race and gender relations on a college campus -- simultaneously functioning as a mirror to larger present-day society. Older teens and adults will find much to think about after watching the film, which includes frank and sometimes confrontational discussions of race (as well as gender and class); the "N" word is used often, as are homophobic slurs (and plenty of other four-letter choices, too). In one part of the movie, some characters put on a gross display of racism by trotting out offensive African-American stereotypes at a party. Couples are shown kissing and making out and ostensibly having sex, though there aren't any graphic nude scenes. College students also smoke pot and drink heavily.
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What's the story?
Set at a fictional Ivy League college named Winchester University, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE follows Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a gifted writer who's recruited by a student editor at the school's paper to write about grumblings that have ensued since the Randomization of Housing Act was passed. At Armstrong-Parker House, a dorm that historically has been the school's base for African-American students, Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), a budding filmmaker and deejay, is luring listeners with both her frank observations about classmates in a radio show called "Dear White People" and her call to repeal the housing act. She has also stumped campus golden boy Troy (Brandon Bell), her ex, by winning the race for the position of Armstrong-Parker's student president -- long Troy's domain. Meanwhile, the glamorous Coco (Teyonah Parris), who finds Sam's advocacy tiresome, just wants to be famous, which drives her to join the campus humor magazine, which is staffed by students -- including the college president's son -- who want to keep milking their privilege.
Is it any good?
Writer-director Justin Simien's Dear White People is exhilarating for two main reasons. First, it's ripe with ideas and enthusiastic about sharing them, but without the dogma that sometimes keeps audiences at a remove. Second, it's bold, unburdened by a narrative frame -- the storytelling jumps to and fro with ease. Astute social and cultural observations arrive wrapped up in witty dialogue and hyper-kinetic scenes. The action and conversations move so fast that boredom isn't an option.
Some may say it's too hyperactive for its own good, and they're not wholly wrong. At times, you want Simien to linger a little on the punch lines and epiphanies before adding another layer. But it's still exciting to watch. Dear White People is in-your-face moviemaking that demands your attention. It deserves it. It deals with weighty subjects confidently and reminds us that we need to talk about race relations -- and not gingerly. It's good satire because its bite carries the pain of truth.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about race relations in America and the issues that Dear White People raises. What is the state of race relations in this country? Do you think things are generally changing positively or negatively? Why?
Is satire a good genre to address issues that are difficult to discuss? Why or why not?
What's the movie's take on identity and community? How is this movie different from other films that explore these issues?
- In theaters: October 17, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 3, 2015
- Cast: Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Dennis Haysbert
- Director: Justin Simien
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, sexual content and drug use
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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