Monthly Archives: October 2014

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Dear White People, I’mma Need You to See This Movie

DWP1One of the great ironies of Justin Simien’s masterful directorial debut, Dear White People, which released in theaters nationwide this last weekend, is that although it’s aimed at white people, it’s not about white people.

And just now as I was writing, I was tempted to use another, less weaponized-sounding verb, but truly, “aimed” is the right choice, because Dear White People is relentless in its depiction of white people as alternately clueless, ambivalent or calculatingly sinister regarding the racial issues on display at fictional ivy-league school Winchester University. And I mean that as a compliment.

In ways both obvious and subtle, it makes Big Important Pronouncements about race, and then uses those pronouncements both as occasional comedic sketch premises, but also as plot devices to flesh out the emotional development of its main characters, all of whom are either black or biracial. The combination of the two, the thematic heavy-handedness modulated by a playful tone of nimble vignettes with varying emotional intensity… it’s quite a balancing act to pull off, akin to performing surgery with a shotgun.

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Black-ish Is the New “Orange”

Okay, so let me fess up, right off the top.

That is a horrible, clickbaity title, a ridiculous, derivative and obvious reference, comparing two TV shows that couldn’t be more different if one of them were set on a different planet.

But they have one thing in common, that thing that most successful TV shows manage to pull off with some level of success. They can take a specific cultural situation and make it broad and relatable enough for people outside to appreciate and understand it, and by the same token, take basic and timeless themes and filter them through the lens of a specific perspective and worldview. They make the specific general, and the general specific.