In a “Media Arts” class at the prestigious and fictitious Ivy League school Winchester University, our daring and bold “rebel” Samantha White (played by a sardonic Tessa Thompson) self-consciously awaits the comments from her mostly white classmates and professor about her millennial-themed retro silent film, and satirical update, replete with black actors in “whiteface” mocking the racialized fear and anxieties of white people who were unhinged at the re-election of President Barack Obama, not unlike the fears of black political participation in the first film – is of course met with silence from her white audience.
She tries to make light of it, flippantly suggesting that her blonde weave is another manifestation of “everyone” wanting to try out someone else’s skin.
But the sight of a white girl pretending to be a black girl donning a “white-girl” weave is enough to send her into hiding.
Her on-camera remarks while Sam films her, suggesting that “white people want to be us so bad” is undercut by the hurt.
Of course, Sam – our aspiring filmmaker and campus radio personality of the radio show “Dear White People” – is seen very early in the film admonishing white people in interracial relationships that “dating a black person to piss off your parents makes you a racist.” While Gabe clearly shows his love for Samantha (over any need to “be down” or “piss off his parents”), Samantha’s position does seem to raise the question: Does sleeping with someone white make you since history has shown that some of our most radical African Americans, be they straight or gay – Frederick Douglass, Katherine Dunham, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou – have had interracial relationships or marriages.
On the other hand, sexuality plays out as yet another political terrain, which means the question is not so easily answered.
At the same time, because sexuality becomes another political site of contention in black women’s representation in this film takes a hit.
The film revolves around four black characters: Sam the so-called radical, Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P.
Bell), the pretty boy student leader and son of the ambitious Dean of Students (played by Dennis Haysbert), Colandrea “Coco” Conners (Teyonah Parris), the insecure darker-skinned black woman from Chicago’s South Side with “bougie” ambitions, and Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), the openly gay writer who doesn’t find himself fitting into any group.
All characters have their own bouts or flirtations with interracial liasons, which in some ways serve as the ultimate metaphor for what Sam describes in the subtitle of her subversive pamphlet had some great potential, but their characters weren’t developed enough, or rather, they were undercut by more male-dominant narratives.