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Film / Dear White People

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Dear White People is a film by Justin Simien. A satire at times, and a drama during others, the film follows four young black students as they try to find their identity while maneuvering through the complex racial politics of the prestigious Winchester Academy. A housing randomization initiative threatening to gut the Armstrong dorm, currently as a safe haven for racial minorities, causes racial tensions to rise for Sam, Lionel, Coco, and Troy as the Black Student Union tries to fight back, the school paper wants the scoop, and a smooth reality show producer seeks to reap the drama.

A Netflix series based on the film was released April 28th, 2017.

Dear White People contains examples of:

  • Batman Gambit: Sam, in the final act. After overhearing the cancellation of the Blackface party Sam forces the invites out anyway, but that's all, banking on the members of Pastiche and their guests to do the rest.
  • Black and Nerdy: Sam and Lionel show shades of this, but the film implies Lionel's geekiness is yet another reason people ostracize him. Troy deliberately hides this.
  • Blackface: The film's climax is oriented around a Blackface-themed party, where students dress up in offensive stereotypes and exhume their wildest racist fantasies. This gets Played for Drama.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Sam and Gabe. Initially Sam is in denial that they are falling in love, because of her guilt at not dating a black man. She gets over this in a beautiful moment at the end of the film, when she and Gabe hold hands crossing the bridge, taking no notice of the stares from her BSU friends.
  • Black Is Bigger in Bed: Sophia invokes this with Troy, somewhat to his chagrin.
  • Camp Gay: All of the gay guys we see except for Lionel are quite clean-cut and campy. He doesn't identify in their crowd comfortably because of it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Sam's handheld camera. She is seen using it in the prologue to film a news recording, and again for her film class. She eventually takes it to the blackface party to record the chaos, using the footage to make her final project for the film class and get national coverage on the school's racism.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Programming, or rather the aptitude at which the character can use it. Sam's friend Reggie boasts of his skill at hacking early on during the BSU meeting. Later Sam is called into the Dean of Students office to discuss a problem with the app that took the votes for the election. She won... then kept winning.
  • Chess Motif: Invoked by Kurt, discussing his and Troy's fathers' long-running conflict.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Sofia is implied to be dating Troy for this reason. Unintentionally lampshaded by Sam almost immediately after the couple is introduced:
    Sam (on the radio): "Dear white people, dating a black guy to piss off your parents is a form of racism."
  • Everything Is Racist: Microaggressions and the extent to which they should be taken seriously are explored as part of the film's examination of race relations.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Lionel and the Black Student Union, after he takes the reigns during Sam's brief departure.
  • Foreshadowing: An early scene has the young gay black man Lionel sitting on the college campus observing two different groups: tough-looking black guys and limp-wristed gay guys, neither of whom he feels he identifies with. It more or less sums up exactly what the movie is about.
  • Freud Was Right: In-Universe. Kurt brings up Pastiche’s motto, metaphorically saying that comedy and criticism should not hold back and hit raw nerves: ‘Sharpen thy sword’. One of the members thinks it’s a euphemism for something else.
  • Friends with Benefits: Sam and Gabe start off sleeping together casually. Sam is in denial that it is blossoming into romance.
    Gabe: [pensively] What are we doing?
    Sam: [looking out the window] Fucking.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Kurt's Blackface Party invitations backfire after the party is cancelled when Sam forces them out anyway in order to create a confrontation and bring the university's racial issues into the national news.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: A source of angst for Sam, who is black but has a white father. She is committed to black activism but is in a relationship with Gabe, a white guy.
  • How We Got Here: The film begins with the main characters individually watching reacting to news reports of the riot which breaks out at the Blackface party at the end of the film, complete with a Title Card that reads "Prologue."
  • Hypocritical Humor: President Fletcher's line about racism being over in America; the only people bothered by it being Mexicans.
  • Important Haircut: Sam and Lionel. Lionel finally cuts his hair down, signifying his newfound confidence in approaching the members of the BSU. At the same time Sam lets hers down, signifying that she now won't spend the bulk of her time trying to force an outward appearance of "blackness" and instead prioritizes who she is over what everyone sees her for.
  • Internalized Categorism: A major theme of the film is how several of the black students repress their identity or try to distance themselves from it due to their primarily-white environment. Lionel notes that his worst favorite part of high school was the other black kids due to associating them with homophobic behavior, and Coco seeks out the company of white people and only plays up her black identity when it can potentially snag her some attention — and even then, she shows signs of insecurity, such as insisting she isn't that dark-skinned. Even Sam, the most outspoken advocate for black people on campus, is revealed to be insecure about her mixed-race identity.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Every character in the film is either working for or attending Winchester Academy at some capacity. The level of ambition most of the characters display makes it pretty clear that Winchester is at the same level of prestige as an Ivy League School.
  • Jive Turkey: Mitch is constantly trying to embody black stereotypes, and looking ridiculous doing it.
  • Karma Houdini: Kurt assaults Lionel in front of witnesses, but isn't expelled or prosecuted (the fact that his father is the university president helps with the latter, but the former is left unexplained).
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Lionel, during his second time at the Blackface Party.
  • Male Gaze: When Coco wears a dress with a Navel-Deep Neckline to a party, the camera lingers. It's also subverted in that when she approaches Kurt at the end of the party, the camera frames the back of his head such that the audience cannot tell if he's looking.
  • Misblamed: Sam and the BSU voice their discontent with the American film industry's treatment of black characters, with Tyler Perry being named in particular as producing offensive movies. But rather than a producer or a writer, they complain to the poor man behind the ticket booth at a local movie theater
  • N-Word Privileges: Invoked by Troy: "You guys get country clubs. We get to say nigga."
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Troy's father, the Dean, brushes him off when he tries to inform him of the escalating situation on campus.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: Black Face parties have occurred. Right before the credits roll, a montage shows numerous pictures of real life white college students donning Black Face as part of their (culturally insensitive) costume.
  • Playing Up the Stereotype: Sam uses the term "oofta" to describe black people who modulate their blackness around their white friends, dating it back to the Jazz Age when "bojango-types" would "black it up" for white audiences. Troy is depicted as one example — he's highly academic and fluent, but when hanging out with his white friends at a party, he cracks jokes about being black and his affinity for white women so he can make them laugh.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Kurt is a jerkass who frequently and proudly makes racist and homophobic statements.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: One of the major themes of the movies (if not the major theme) is white people who are obsessed with emulating black stereotypes while having no respect for actual black people.
  • Take That!: When Sam leads a cadre of her friends to a movie theater to protest the lack of quality films targeted toward African-Americans, they call out Tyler Perry's films as essentially being minstrel shows draped in Christian dogma.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Lionel delivers a long and hard one to Kurt on the mouth to humiliate him in front of his friends.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Troy structures his life around his father's approval. He's still not free of it by the end of the film.
  • Where da White Women At?:
    • Gender-inverted and subverted with Coco, a black girl who specifically seeks out white guys to date (she's looking for "the Olivier to [her] Halle Berry). However, she ends up hooking up with Troy, a black guy.
    • When Kurt and his gang call out black guys for dating all the white girls, including Troy and his white (ex-)girlfriend Sofia, Troy jokes that it's a form of reparations — "Forty white bitches and a mule!"
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: Kurt tries this on Sam when she kicks his gang out of the house. She says she does know, and it makes no difference.