One of the movies that caught my eye at this year’s Sundance was Dear White People, a satire of race politics centered around an African-American themed party thrown by white kids on a college campus and the hell that breaks loose afterward. It was a hit at Sundance, winning a Special Jury Prize and netting writer/director Justin Simien a Breakthrough Talent award. And with its October 17 release date a little over two months away, it now has a trailer, and it looks GREAT.
The first thing to take away from the trailer is that this won’t be a simplistic view of race in America in the twenty-first century. There’s just as much, if not a little more, focus on how the black community views each other as there is on the white/black binary. Issues of race and identity aren’t just Us vs. Them—everyone struggles with defining themselves and the world around them. No one has a corner on dealing with confusion and dislocation and a sense of identity loss, whether it’s through appropriation, suppression or the fear that someone else’s actualization is somehow threatening your own. But the movie posits that some people have to fight a lot harder to self-identify because of an inherently biased system, and then must keep fighting in order to maintain whatever space they can carve out for themselves.
Setting the story on a college campus creates a perfect microcosm for exploring these issues. Colleges are a closed environment, a fishbowl, and that insular nature makes for ripe ground for satire. It’s easy to push things to extremes in a fishbowl because you tacitly accept that these characters can’t escape one another and so will engage in increasingly ludicrous behavior in order to achieve their goal within the narrative (see also: Snowpiercer).
Which brings us to the second thing about this trailer: It’s FUNNY. There are glimpses of real emotions driving the characters—anger and confusion chief among them—but I laughed throughout the trailer every time I watched it. It’s sharp and witty and doesn’t appear to be going for the easy jokes but instead playing situations to maximum effect. There’s nothing more appealing than a movie that just plain looks well made.