The Speakeasy Reacts to “Dear White People”

The Speakeasy has quickly become a place where Autostraddle readers that identify as People of Color can go to vent about microaggressions that they encounter on a daily basis in their communities. Microaggressions are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.” This would be things like randomly touching someone’s hair because it looks cool or wearing sacred cultural items because they are cute. So of course we were ECSTATIC about the release of Dear White People a movie all about being “a black face in a white space.”

But Dear White People is not simply about microaggressions. As Speakeasy member Nicolette Chambers said, “Dear White People is not a how-to guide on ways to avoid performing acts of microaggressions, or why it’s bad to appropriate black people’s culture. Instead, it’s an examination of the importance of support systems, the difficulty of being an outsider, and how one uses identity as a tool of protection.”

Let’s hear what the Speakeasy had to say about the movie.


Our Favorite Character: Lionel

Creatrix Tiara


I felt really bad for him when he got kicked out from the house because he didn’t technically live there, even though he just wanted some food because his normal house wouldn’t let him in. I could totally see why he didn’t feel comfortable associating with the BSU — they didn’t give a shit about him. Even then, he still reached out to them when he heard about the party, despite being rejected by BSU and especially by Sam. He has the most compassion out of everyone in the movie.

Michal Alfred-Kamara

Lionel was my absolute favorite character. I grew out of the “I’m different because I like things not associated with black people” stage when I was about 13 but I definitely identify with the awkward, not quite fitting in anywhere aspect of his character. Also, the queer part.

Nicolette Chambers

Despite the fact that Lionel was continually ostracized, he still managed to remain true to who he was. The same cannot be said for the other three main characters. Sam used her militant pro-black image to secretly affirm her place in black society. Troy practiced respectability politics, and code switching to leverage his position in both black and white circles. Coco relinquished ties to her name, her community, and her natural black features in order to be found acceptable.


Oh, We Also LOVE Coco

Michal Alfred-Kamara

Omg, I have so much love for Coco. She’s wonderful. I kind of wish she’d been the main character (as much as I love Sam) because she has a form of pragmatism that I like. I kind of rolled my eyes at the scene at the party where she said white people wanted to be black people because I kind of wish we’d have more insight into what made her tick beyond something so… standard? Idk. I’m annoyed Troy ditched her at the end. Isn’t Coco worthy of love? I’m so glad people love Coco because she was my second favorite after Lionel. Also, Teyonah Parris in that blue dress… *ahem*

I actually would have preferred for her to be the main character just because she knows how to play the system and an especially fascinating moment for me with her was when she was in the club and looking at the white guys and then two white girls got the attention and I think she just moved her face into this “I don’t care” look. I’ve been there when I wasn’t even looking for attention. It’s a reminder that you’re seen as less attractive than white girls even when you’re gorgeous (like she is). That kind of reminded me of the invisible feeling I’d get when I went to mainstream LGBT clubs and that was kind of worse than outright hostility because at least then I felt like people saw me.

Creatrix Tiara

I really wished they fleshed out Coco’s character more. It seems like they placed her just as a foil for Sam — “Look at this self-hating Black woman wanting to be White.” Except she is pretty proud of her Blackness (especially her dark skin) and she seems to be taking things from the perspective of doing what you need to do to survive. She reminds me of this video my friend (burlesque performer and all-round artsy witchy being) D. Faust made about shapeshifting as a Black woman.

Cleo Andi Anderson

Also, I’ve been Lionel and I am Sam. I feel so much for those two. They’re caught between identities both inherent and assumed. Coco also has a better sense of boundaries than Sam does. When she is done, she is done, and them sketchy ass white boys never cross the line with her the same way they do with Sam.

Sometimes POC’s relationships got messy

Michal Afred-Kamara

(Romantic) Black love. Where was it? Sam had a crappy white boyfriend and a crappy black boyfriend, Lionel’s love interest wasn’t black, Coco got shafted and was seen in a club hoping to get the attention of white men (and man, the scene where she got passed over for the white girls rang so true) and Troy had that white girlfriend and previous with Sam. Oh and Sam’s parents were an interracial couple too. Interracial relationships are great but to me, there was definitely a conspicous lack of black couples in love. Did anyone else see that?

Creatrix Tiara

I don’t understand why they wouldn’t reach out to Lionel but they were willing to have this one “urbanised” Asian woman (who says in the movie that she’s just there for the food, JUST LIKE LIONEL) hang out with them a lot. It’s great that she got the Asian house mobilized to take down the blackface party, but it seemed tokenizing of Asians in general.

Abigail Adkins

Can we also talk about that scene where Reggie shoulder checks Sam into a wall and her girls act like it was her fault? DWP did a good job picking apart institutional racism but hardly touched the sexism that WOC face when confronting those institutions.


What about Sam, the main character?

Carolyn Wysinger

I identified with Sam in so many ways as the community organizer type. Most notably when she became only the raging voice that no one saw as a whole person anymore. When something happens to her father (and they never say what it was but you know it broke her down) and all her “people” cared about was that she wasn’t there to help with the cause. They never asked her if she was ok, they just kept demanding of her and she shut them out. That happens so often when you decide to become a voice in your community and don’t carve out space for yourself.

Morgen Bromell

We’ve seen Sam before, she’s light enough to tranquilize white viewers while radical enough to satisfy black viewers, the tragic mulatto is fleshed out to the nth degree while Coco’s story ends with a side fling and perhaps a bit more respect from her black peers. I was rolling my eyes the whole time. Sam’s whole existence at Winchester also seemed so reactionary, centering whiteness and constantly weighing moments of public conflict over personal triumph and healing. Her relationships to the white men in her life seem to define her life (her ill father, the President of the school and his policies, the president’s son, her love interest) in a strange, paternalistic feud. Are these white men at Winchester simply avatars for her white father and the battles she’s facing representative of her conflict with being part white and despising whiteness?

The kiss that rocked the world

Abigail Adkins

There was one audible gasp from a lady next to me, when Lionel and the editor dude kissed. I’m really glad that the film didn’t let queer community off the hook for racism, but there was a whole lot of homophobia and violence used as plot points.

Nicolette Chambers

While I found Lionel’s queerness refreshing, I’ve been disturbed by the reactions the kiss with his male editor has elicited from audiences. The stories of gasping, groaning, and shouts of disgust are indicative of a society that still holds on to the belief that queerness is an act of deviance that should be shunned. In actuality, the act of hating a person because of who they are is truly the deviant act.

Michal Alfred Kamara

I have mixed feelings about the scene where Lionel kisses the crappy white guy who calls him a homophobic slur. On the one hand, it’s this sort of triumphant moment the audience is supposed to be cheering at and on the other, it’s sexual assault. Because of that I wasn’t really sure how to react.

Some other cool observations

Cleo Andi Anderson

  1. Yes! BSU’s are so hostile when you aren’t the right “type” of Black.
  2. Making people squirm in class in not a bad thing. If you never challenge people, they’ll never think.
  3. Why is the boyfriend all upset? Like I genuinely need him to look at it from her emotional perspective, not a factual one.
  4. The party scene! The. Party. Scene. We all know that one white kid that we aren’t even offended by because even other white people know he’s a moron.
  5. Teachers have no patience when you’re a minority and need help. I’ve had the exact convo about my student film with a teacher.
  6. “You’re only technically black.” Never OK to say that. Ever. OD I need to explain that?
  7. See, you can call out racist bullshit and still love white people. It’s not nearly as essentialist as people make it out to be.
  8. Poor Lionel. No one wanted him. I just want to hug him and bake him cookies.
  9. Coco and Sam both get their sadness, but the boys don’t. I’d like to see something other than anger form those two.
  10. Why did Lionel kiss that guy? That is so uncomfortable. I have so many feelings about that.

Abigail Adkins

I wish I could’ve been at a straddler meet up! I watched DWP in a mostly empty theater in a mostly white Orlando suburb. And the audience reaction was mixed. There were a lot of laughs, but also dead silence. The dialog was so perfect. To this day white people still think watching Good Hair gives them the right to touch mine. And Coco is amazing. You can see the actress, Teyonah Parris, channeling all that anger and disappointment into pure fucking will power. She constantly tears down respectability politics, colorism and manages to be waaayy more effective at getting what she wants than the black student union.

About the ending

Morgen Bromell

I wish they addressed the gay bashing more and I wish the movie portrayed the justice system accurately, because I know that black folk can’t trash a party on a white campus and no one goes to jail. Are you trying to tell me that these white cops just…got it and only arrested the white boy? Justin Simien, you know this is a lie.


Now comment below and tell us what YOU thought about Dear White People?

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The Speakeasy

The QTPOC Speakeasy is a collective of Autostraddle's writers of color.

has written 22 articles for us.


  1. THIS POST EXCITES ME! Except I can’t read it because Canada is not playing this movie yet. Anywhere.

    I might have to cross the border and get back to you.

    • It’s supposed to be open in toronto @ younge and dundas on november 7th! (this only helps if you’re in the toronto area though)

  2. EEE, it’s up!! (Also, yay, my name in print! Almost as good as my name in lights!) It’s awesome seeing all the things that came up in the conversation collated in this post. I feel like Dear White People is one of those films I’ll need to see again (good luck to me when no UK distributor has picked it up yet) but I came out of the cinema really excited by what I’d seen, really excited by all the different characters who I could all identify with to at least a small degree on screen and excited by the atmosphere and the cool people I’d seen it with and then as time went on, I read reviews, thought about it a bit more and now I feel a little lukewarm towards the film. I see its flaws a lot more now. But I suppose cooling towards it was a bit inevitable considering how long I’d been waiting to see it for, maybe it’s a case of me overhyping it in my head. I don’t know if any of this makes sense anymore so I’m gonna be quiet. Can’t wait for some more opinions! :D

    • Man being a black student at a PWI isn’t easy. All you’re trying to do is just get an education, and have some fun. After a couple of months there you learn real quick that despite the fact that you’re paying the same amount of money as your peers, you’re often treated like a second class citizen. So kudos to Justin Siemens and Lena Waithe for sharing our story.

      • At NYU I sought out POC safe spaces and it really helped me at times when I felt frustration during my program because the art world is racist and sexist and I can only drink so much wine.

  3. I think this commentary is spot on. I saw Dear White People on Monday with my white queer friend, I’m going to see it tomorrow with my mom and dad, and I’m going to see it again some time next week with my white boyfriend. I’m expecting to find myself looking at this movie from new angles each time I see it. Plus I’m pretty eager to hear to get the experience of seeing it in multiple different audiences and then discussing it with my various different people afterwards.

    • There was so much packed into that movie that you could go back again and again, and get something new out of it each time. I’m glad you brought up the audience because I found their reaction to the movie to be an important subplot. It still saddens me how many viewers have gasped and yelled derogatory words at the screen during Lionel’s kiss.

  4. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr(rrrrrr)l,


    Never I have felt so much tension with my white friends since watching “The Help,” BUT it was reversed where I was seething and my white friends were like, “wow it’s so uplifting on how far we have come!”


    With DWP I’m like “YAAAAAAAAS!” and for them is this silence and I think they might have more insight about my time and Penn State and NYU because mother fuckers can be soooooo dense. I conducer my friends but my closet? Nah, we get along a lot with our mutual love of art, anime and for the most part enjoy their company.

    I related to Sam and Coco and Lionel the most because each facet of their character represents a stage in my life. In the beginning I was more like Lionel and felt like I did not fit in anywhere because I was Nigerian-American and I did not fit in with a lot of the black people in my neighborhood. I just hung out with my best friend who is Asian since high school and we are still really close today (about 15 years *tears*).

    Then going to college at Penn State I had a Coco phase which I really feel for because I was trying to assimilate and let a lot of racist shit slide because they were not talking about me.

    I’m completely going to be honest and during my time at NYU I totally had a Sam phase because it at this point that despite my privileges, I started to see the ceilings and the limitations. Sure I’m pretty, witty and gay but I am black too, first generation Nigerian-American and shit is getting real and a wake up call.

    It’s one of the reasons why that I use what I have to help others especially black women in a couple of community organizations I participate in Brooklyn. Being those spaces put my anger and really just frustration in a productive place.

    DWP has it’s flaws but after marathoning a Different World, this movie is sorely needed and I hope it can inspire more movies like it. Also this movie helped articulate the frustration I would have with my well-meaning white friends that intentions are not magic and when I say, “you want *this* too,” when I’m talking about cultural currency/capital and cultural appropriation.

    And everyone was attractive, the end.

    • Ugh, what I meant by cultural currency/capital is that for every Miley Cyrus and I’m to need five black comedies, for every time Katy Perry appropriates a cultural aesthetic that originates from POC I’m going to need 6 movies featuring POC as the lead and finally when there is some YA dystopian movie and the cast is lily white, I’m going to have them create 5 movies that are not that because the implications of these popular movies/novels are DISTURBING!

      “Where are the people of color? Did colonization did a resurgence and wipe them out? I cannot be the only one that asks these questions!”

    • Love this! I had a really similar experience growing up and in school being Ethiopian-American.

  5. Honestly, It has its flaws but I can’t think of another satire thathas told it how it is being black in ANY space since School Daze and that wasn’t even a satire lol. It did suffer from having SO MUCH in one movie and not being able to roperly address it all. Interstingly I had a another POC friend who was compltely lost o some stuff and that was when i realized that SOME stuff in the movie was just a black thang and not universally POC experience. That was an interesting revelation lol

    • Thanks for putting this article together! Dear White People had issues, but I walked out of that theater feeling a thousand times lighter. Joking about racism and microaggressions doesn’t make them go away, but I didn’t know how much I needed that laugh.

  6. I was so annoyed by Sam’s character and the idea of mixed kids struggling between “two sides”. Can there be media about us WITHOUT this trope?

    I would have liked Coco’s character to be more fleshed out, and for her to be the main character instead of Sam too, honestly.

    Sam choosing to date that white boy broke my heart! He was so uneducated!

  7. It’s up! I haven’t gotten to see the movie yet and all this commentary has just made me more excited.

  8. the whole weird hook-up thing between Lionel and the dude at the newspaper was strange to me. like there wasn’t any chemistry between them at all and the dude was just using Lionel for his writing and his assumed connection to the Black students. I mean, it just felt so low. This storyline could have been fleshed out to create a real interesting love story between two men and instead it was weird, emotionally abusive and not at all sexy or cute.

    major fail. also, major fail to all the men who audibly gagged and got grossed out when Lionel and newspaper dude kissed in the theater i watched it in.

    also, i loved this movie and am also totally aware of how it missed the mark.

    1- the reaction to the racist anti-Black costume party fell flat for me. also, i didn’t like how that party became the symbol for white racism. i felt like it could give white audience members this distance, like well since I wouldn’t wear black face to a party then I’m obviously not racist. there could have been more consequences and more discussion on how racism exists in less obvious ways and more hurtful ways.

    bottom line: one movie can’t be everything. this movie is important and needed to be made. i’m so glad it exists. i hope it paves the way for other movies that are equally as critical of society and racism and sexism and push even harder on people’s stupidity and participation in normalized oppression.

  9. I need a Dear White People/ Parriah double feature like the kind you find in the DVD bins so I can watch both on repeat.

  10. I do think the compassion lying with Lionel is appropriate but I also didn’t switch to my automatic distaste for the other three main characters (Sam, Troy & Coco) like I do with most films that try to subliminally get you to dislike a certain type of personality. Each of their roles illustrated the points of Sam’s book Ebony & Ivy and ultimately the plot of the entire movie. That as black people, we all play our different parts in society depending on our echelon with the non-POC in our inner circles.
    I am seeing the comments to this article as both insightful and also kind of full of something else. It isn’t hatred per say but the saying “it’s sad but funny because it’s true” comes to mind.
    I think after seeing this film, more than anything, I felt like we have come a long way but also have a very long way to go. And it won’t be an eradication of racism or no prejudice and stereotyping…it will be a time when we look to our history as a means to uplift who we’ve become now.
    Seems like people either want to forget slavery entirely or saturate the entire conversation with it. I think movies like this and tv programs like Black-ish lend a hand to the discussion we need to continuously hold with both POC and non-POC. The fragility of the topic makes people want to turn it into satire in order for people to swallow it easier but none of the tragedies in world history (Holocaust, Apartheid, domestic and foreign terroristic attacks) have ever been subjected to this type of depiction in the media the way slavery and the role of POCs have been in America.
    Overall I think this movie did what it was supposed to –spark dialogue and I love SpeakEasy’s dissection of it.

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