A title like that needs balls of brass to back it up. Luckily, this fiery college comedy from feature-debuting writer-director Justin Simien, loosely inspired by a series of scandalous black-face parties at all-white fraternities, is full of punchy intelligence and barely concealed anger. We follow four characters—nerdy gay outsider Lionel (Tyler James Williams), alpha-male son-of-the-dean Troy (Brandon P. Bell), consummate people pleaser Coco (Teyonah Parris) and radical firebrand Sam (Tessa Thompson)—as they attempt to navigate the sociopolitical minefield of so-called postracial America within the microcosm of a prestigious, privileged university campus.
There’s no escaping the fact that Dear White People is a bit of a mess: The plot meanders, the characters don’t come into focus until fairly late in the game, and the script’s tunnel-visioned unwillingness to wrestle with the class and gender issues inherent in its story can be disappointing. But where it scores big is its wealth of ideas—visual, emotional, cultural—and its deep well of bitter, voice-of-experience rage: A climactic frat-party smackdown makes for giddy, heart-in-throat viewing.