The teaser trailer for the upcoming indie Dear White People (watch it above, if you haven’t already) features a handful of different characters offering critiques of the popular, yet backwards-thinking trends in Hollywood’s portrayal of black Americans – making reference to Tyler Perry movies, the Big Momma’s House series, and historical Oscar bait (The Help, The Butler, etc.), among other films. Such dead-on commentary and observations helped to win writer/director Justin Simien a Special Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where Dear White People earned a good deal of critical acclaim.
Dear White People started out as an original script penned by Simien, based on his college experience back in the mid-2000s. He thereafter set out to raise funding for the project by releasing a promotional trailer, which ended up becoming a viral hit and helped pave the way for the actual feature to show at such prestigious events as Sundance, in addition to international film festival in such places as Seattle, San Francisco, and Palm Springs, among others.
Story-wise, the film revolves around a group of four black American college students, played by the likes of Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris), Brandon P. Bell (Hollwood Heights), Tessa Thompson (Veronica Mars), and Teyonah Parris (Mad Men) – all experiencing difficulties that stem from either conflicts with oblivious white students and/or their conflicted feelings about their racial identity in modern (read: Obama-era) America. Much zaniness ensues – well, in a manner of speaking, anyway.
In truth, basically every complaint about Hollywood’s portrayal of black Americans voiced by a character in the Dear White People trailer, has been raised as part of the larger discussion about Hollywood and race before. Heck, allegations of racist overtones in Gremlins have been around for as long as that 30-year old movie has existed – and, as mentioned in the Dear White People trailer, it’s not exactly the most difficult interpretive argument to make, either.
What is more interesting, arguably, is the prospect of Dear White People showing its characters wrestling with the implications of these complaints, all while it satirizes the problematic way in which Hollywood continues to represent black Americans, even today. Thus far, it appears that many critics feel that is where the film’s true strength lies – like in Variety‘s review, praising Dear White People for its “arguments about the complexities of black identity” or the review by Village Voice, asserting that the film’s greatness is “fueled chiefly by anger – at the everyday racism which endures across the United States.”
Dear White People begins a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on October 17th, 2014.