Dear White People, one of the sharpest and most audacious comedies of the year, is a reassurance that it's OK to be confused sometimes about how best to acknowledge our differences, as long as that confusion doesn't come wrapped in cruelty or thoughtlessness. Writer-director Justin Siemen has set the story on an Ivy League campus, where firebrand activist Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) hosts a radio show -- "Dear White People" -- where she announces, for example, that the quota of black friends a white person must have in order to avoid seeming racist has been raised to two. "Sorry," she adds, "but your weed-man, Tyrone, does not count."
Samantha runs afoul of the college dean (Dennis Haysbert). Meanwhile, there are larger issues for him to untangle, involving the university's housing policy and the conflicts between the residence containing the largest number of white assholes and the house where black students land.
Simien is as fascinated by intra-racial confusion as by the interracial kind. Dear White People moves fast, at the rate of a dozen or more zingers a minute, which makes the experience of watching it exhilarating, if at times a little exhausting. In fact, Dear White People is so pinpoint-focused that it never finds its larger concentration, although that seems to be part of Simien's intent: Gay black sci-fi nerd Lionel (Tyler James Williams) doesn't know where, exactly, he's supposed to fit in, because there's no such thing as "exactly." If Dear White People had all the answers -- well, then, we really would be living in a post-racial America.
Among its many attributes, Justin Simien's exuberant debut feature, Dear White People, proves we're not yet living in a "postracial America": Forget for a moment there are so many vexing problems entwining race, class, and economics that we haven't been able to put a Band-Aid on, let alone solve. In...