Front Row at the Movies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
No escaping it, my skin is whiter than Captain Ahab’s whale. So I guess this movie is talking to me. It’s titled "Dear White People," just in case I didn’t get the message right away.
Directed by Justin Simien, it tells the story of four black students attending a predominately white university. Although he calls it Winchester University in the film, he based it on his days attending Chapman University.
Since I have some graduate credits from Chapman University, I am now sure he’s talking to me.
Seems the students take umbrage over a white fraternity throwing a blackface party. I can understand that. Although I was pretty good-natured about the time a black friend of mine came to a party as a blonde-wigged Marilyn Monroe.
Simien understands there are things that need to be worked out between white and blacks. Some people compare him to filmmaker Spike Lee. But he objects to that, preferring to liken himself to Woody Allen and Ingmar Berman, a couple of white dudes if I remember correctly.
"Dear White People" is playing this week at the Tropic Cinema.
This is Justin Simien’s first feature film. It picked up the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Variety Magazine named him one of "10 Directors to Watch."
I’m watching him.
I think that’s what he wants me to do.
He’s got a good satiric sensibility.
He asks some hard questions without pretending to have all the answers. He has good insights about what it’s like to be black in a "white" world. As well he might.
My old friend Melvin Van Peebles did this 44 years ago in another way, with "Watermelon Man," the story of a bigoted white man who wakes up to find he’s now black.
Melvin once called me -- the great white whale -- "family."
I’m pleased Justin Simien chose to tell me his story. It’s really about not sacrificing your own identity in order to fit it. Maybe if I listen politely to his message he will call me "bro"…?