Dear White People tackles race in an aggressively ambitious way, emphasizing strong character development over lofty speeches or forced thematic ideas. Instead of following a traditional route in handling social issues, the film bites with the ferocity of its main characters, primarily Sam White (Tessa Thompson) and Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell). They are students at an Ivy League College; the former runs a radio show called “Dear White People” where she addresses racial inequality and racism in society while the latter is aiming to be student body President despite the cliques that have developed around the school. The black students believe that the university has wrongfully favored the white students, and past developments perpetuate that notion. Dean Fairbanks (Dennis Haybert) had more experience and education than President Fletcher (Peter Syvertsen), yet one of them got a higher position primarily based on his background. That is, his whiteness. Writer-director Justin Simien uses his feature directorial debut as a means of subversively addressing racial questions that plague universities and society as a whole. Yet he grounds his story in striking human characters, using individualism as a means of defining them rather than their race, something that far too many films do when pandering to minority audiences. Dear White People crafts deeply personal characters, ones that the audience relates to, and even if it falls into standardized, familiar romantic tropes, it still shines through as a bright piece of racial commentary.

Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)

Written by Eric Forthun