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Sundance review: ‘Dear White People’

First Published      Last Updated Jan 19 2014 03:54 pm

"Dear White People"

U.S. Dramatic

*** (three stars)

Any sitcom producer would be crazy not to hire Justin Simien by the end of next week, because the jokes in his script for "Dear White People" are the funniest and most pointed you're going to hear at Sundance. Writer-director Simien resurrects the long-dead and unmourned indie-film staple, the satirical college comedy, for a scathing and multi-layered examination of racial attitudes in supposedly post-racial America. Through the eyes of Lionel (Tyler James Williams), a gay sophomore who fits in no single tribe, the movie follows some of the black students at prestigious Winchester College, including: Status-seeker Troy (Brandon Bell), under pressure because his father (Dennis Haysbert) is the dean of students; Coco (Teyonah Parris), a fame-obsessed YouTuber; and Sam (Tessa Thompson), a radical radio host who calls out racism wherever she sees it, yet keeps quiet about her white father and her white boyfriend Gabe (Justin Dobies). The plot mechanics are sometimes sketchy, but the razor-sharp dialogue is pure gold -- especially the commentary on blacks in popular culture. References to the weaknesses in Tyler Perry's movies, the black quotient of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the hidden racial subtext of "Gremlins" are just some examples of the funny yet biting commentary Simien presents.

-- Sean P. Means

"Dear White People" screens again at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival: Sunday at 9 a.m. at the Temple Theatre, Park City; Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the Eccles Theatre, Park City; Friday at 9 p.m. at the Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City; and Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre, Park City.