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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dear White People (Blu-ray)
Dear White People (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // February 3, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted February 2, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Dear White People is like a less brutal, angry, poignant, yet almost as funny millennial version of Do The Right Thing, utilizing the benign hipster storytelling approach of Wes Anderson while appropriating some of the visual aesthetics of late period Kubrick. It's not the new original voice of satire or the groundbreaking honest take on America's current race relations the way a lot of reviews make it out to be, but it's nevertheless an insightful and entertaining tale on how a willing lack of communication and empathy between races can result in the kind of unpleasantness that can be easily avoided.

Spike Lee's masterpiece is still painfully relevant 25 years after its release and will continue to be for a long time. It's perhaps even more relevant these days considering the racial powder kegs that are blowing up in Ferguson and New York City, as racially motivated police violence became the number one topic in America last year. There will always be a point in American culture that will initiate a new discussion on Do The Right Thing and will make fans reach for the DVD or Blu-Ray in order to garner new perspectives on whatever race related conflict is going on at any given time.

Dear White People, on the other hand, is firmly planted in its space and time, with its overreliance on specific pop culture references, distinct fashion and cultural styles of not only the current generation, but also a small sub culture within that generation, as well as its commentary regarding the "Me" generation's obsession with being relevant via specific social media tools that will eventually become obsolete. Mere months after its theatrical release, the whole enterprise already feels a bit dated on home video.

However, it also can't be denied that writer/director Justin Simien has a lot to say about post-Obama race issues in America and that he uses a unique voice, as well as a captivating visual style, to get his message across. Taking place in an ivy league university predictably full of overconfident and obnoxious white kids, as well as a small but loud black minority, Dear White People follows the story structure of Do The Right Thing almost verbatim: Rising conflict between races, sparked by a relatively trivial issue, gradually leads to an explosive climax.

In the case of Dear White People, the conflict begins when Sam (Tessa Thompson), a militant wannabe black activist with a college radio show focusing on white people's usually clueless and brash behavior in relation to black culture (Her catchphrase "Dear White Peopleā€¦" provides the film with its title), kicking Kurt (Kyle Gallner), the entitled and racist son of the university's president, out of the campus house primarily frequented by black students.

In both films, people intensify the trivial nature of the conflict with more extreme views on both sides until the whole thing explodes in a massive fight during the third act. The fact that Dear White People's finale is nowhere near as violent or tragic might at least show that perhaps we've made some racial headway in recent years (Which is probably not true, look at the aforementioned Ferguson reference for proof).

During his solo commentary track, Simien doesn't hide his love of Kubrick and especially Barry Lyndon, which explains his repeated use of clinically symmetrical static shots and classical music. Like Barry Lyndon, Dear White People takes place in a world where social class and popularity are vital to getting ahead in life and garnering respect from your peers, which explains a lot about the motivations behind some of the glaringly insensitive and selfish choices made by the characters.

The Blu-Ray:

Video:

In pure narrative terms, Dear White People is a bit of a mixed treat, but in a visual sense it definitely shows an assured direction by Simien. This is a gorgeous looking film with a specific approach to framing and cinematic aesthetics that fully utilizes the historical ivy league setting to its full advantage. This Blu-Ray presents a gorgeous 1080p transfer that makes the colors pop and adds a lot of depth to the picture.

Audio:

Apart from the party sequences in the finale where everything goes a bit crazy, Dear White People uses a more subdued audio mix that focuses on dialogue and the classical inspired score. The dialogue can always be heard clearly in the DTS-HD 5.1 transfer that doesn't showcase a lot of surround presence, until we get to the music blaring during the scenes that show the insanely insensitive party (Which was perhaps not so surprisingly based on real parties across American college campuses).

Extras:

Audio Commentary with Justin Simien and Members of the Cast: This is a very loose and boisterous commentary that feels more like simply watching the film with its makers than an informative track on the making on the picture. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun to listen to and you can tell that the filmmakers formed a genuine bond during production.

Audio Commentary with Justin Simien: This is the commentary you should check out if you want more level-headed information about how Dear White People got made as well as some of Simien's choices during the process.

The Making Of Dear White People: A colorful and poppy EPK that goes into how the film got funding and shows some footage from the production.

Music Video by Caught a Ghost: A music video directed by Simien, showcasing the singing talents of the film's star, Tessa Thompson.

Deleted Scenes: A mere two minutes of scenes cut out of the film. Nothing really important here.

Outtakes: A five-minute gag reel full of mildly amusing bloopers.

The More You Know (About Black People): A string of brief parodies of The More You Know PSAs.

Racism Insurance: A racial parody of State Farm ads, co-written by Simien.

DVRSE App: A fake ad for an app that adds black people to social media pictures of white kids. Even though it's only two minutes long, it's almost funnier than the main feature.

Winchester U Diversity: Another satirical fake video, this one about a supposed diversity video released by the fictional ivy league university depicted in the film.

Final Thoughts:

Dear White People wasn't the punch in the gut American culture needed the way Do The Right Thing was, nor will it be as memorable over time. However, it's still an amusing and honest take on modern race relations that showcase a unique narrative and visual voice.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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