It is ironic that writer-director Justin Simien displays such assurance over material that is so fraught with uncertainty. The subjects up for consideration in Dear White People are race and racial identity with sexual orientation thrown in for bonus complications. Time and again, during the coverage of this film since its breakthrough premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, talk has revolved around its examination of “black faces in white places” — more specifically, situations when there are only a precious few black faces in those white spaces.
The setting here is a fictional Ivy League university dealing with real world problems that many assumed would disappear when the country’s first black president ushered in a “post-racial” age. Dear White People rewrites the rules of engagement for both blacks and whites by highlighting the personal toll of the skirmishes and the hope for a shared future that might eventually earn that “post-racial” moniker. That’s the real Promised Land and I imagine that Simien is going to show us a few more examples of what it might look like during his career. (R) Grade: A