There was never any doubt that Justin Simien's debut feature, Dear White People, was going to make a splash at this year's Sundance Film Festival. How could it not with a title like that and a promo image of Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris) decked out with an afro that would make Angela Davis feel inadequate. And the film certainly did turn heads, earning Simien the Jury Prize for Breakout Talent and a distribution deal for this fall. But will audiences take to his brand of biting racial and social commentary?
The first trailer has arrived and they are pulling absolutely no punches on this one. "In the tradition of The Help, The Blind Side, and The Butler' it begins before the African-American students (led by Tessa Thompson) at a mostly-white university start ripping on the racism of Hollywood movies. But there's a lot more Simien and his talented cast are attempting to say about the nature of race relations in the Obama era, although as I noted in my review from Park City, it "often comes off as too clever by half and self-congratulatory" while being burdened by stagnant subplots. Simien is a powerful voice and while some are already comparing him to Spike Lee, it may be a little too early for that.
Also starring Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P. Bell, Kyle Gallner, Malcolm Barrett, Brittany Curran, Marque Richardson, and Dennis Haysbert, Dear White People opens October 17th.
PLOT: At prestigious Winchester University, biracial student Samantha White begins her radio show, "Dear White People, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn't count." Sam becomes president of the all-black residential hall Parker/Armstrong, whose existence is facing extinction in the name of diversification. TV reality show "Black Face/White Place" smells gold in Sam's story and decides to follow it, rejecting the proposal of fellow black student Coco Conners, who pitched her show "Doing Time at an Ivy League". The clamor over Sam's rise also becomes a career-defining opportunity for black misfit Lionel Higgins when he is asked to join the school's lily-white newspaper staff to cover the controversy, even though he secretly knows little about black culture.