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White People
IMDB Rating: 3.8/10 from votes
Release: 2015 (USA) /

White People

Genre: Documentary
Synopsis: Documentary on the concept of white privilege and how it effects white people and other cultures.

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Critic Reviews

MTV's controversial and heavily hyped documentary White People is the most insubstantial and unfounded documentary of the year, and its facile structure and lack of substance bleeds through it like it's an episode of your average reality Television show. Shot with the evidence of heavy editing, little coherency, and pamphlet-level examinations into race relations, the documentary attempts to examine what it means to be white in America, the idea of "white privilege," and how certain races are perceived by certain cultures.

All of this information could've, and should've, made for a compelling documentary that would've more fittingly suited documentarian Jose Antonio Vargas's idea of making the viewer and interviewee uncomfortable in order to consider race relations in America. However, thanks to MTV editing and a forty-one minute runtime, the surface of these ideas is barely scratched, and the audience is left with nothing to consider, no meat to a conversation they are repeatedly demanded to have, and little to remember from such a flimsy documentary.

The first immediate problem is the presentation of this documentary; the production levels mirror a reality Television show, which wouldn't be such a glaring issue if MTV wasn't ostensibly playing White People like it was your average episode of throwaway TV trash. Rather than focusing on the conversation, Vargas and the editors of the documentary seem much more concerned with the drama, like characters dramatically running out of rooms in tears or breaking down mid-conversation to embellish the level of discomfort they have in discussing these issues. This, in turn, makes these subjects look like feeble and inept souls that cannot bring themselves to have a conversation about something that matters; if they grew up on present day MTV, however, perhaps this is only a predictable reaction.

With that, the film explores a variety of subjects, such as a white college student who chose to attend a historically black college, experiencing a surreal culture shock, white teachers who teach at exclusively Native American schools, and an Italian neighborhood in New York that is experiencing a wave of Asian immigrants. These would make for compelling subjects, but instead, they each make up relatively five to eight minutes of an almost entirely worthless documentary.

One white teacher at a Native American school brings up the intriguing point that she never had to internalize what white people did when examining history, but in a Native American school, each and every day you have to look at your race and even introspectively to examine certain issues. This great point is completely glossed over so the editors can furiously scurry over to the next subject so this documentary can meet the forty-one minute runtime. Almost necessary ideas - like whitewashed history, the dilution of "white culture" and white heritage, the significance of the word "ghetto," and the worthlessness of privilege-checking when the institution that encourages it goes unscathed - get entirely glossed over, only discrediting this documentary moreso.

The final big point of White People is the idea of scholarships and how white people feel "discriminated against" because, anecdotally speaking, most scholarships are offered to minority students and white people are immediately pushed to the side when applying for said scholarships or even financial aid. Vargas speaks to a college-age girl, who didn't receive a scholarship and feels such a way and he decides to look into this idea. Vargas notices that white students are forty percent more likely to get a scholarship than a person of color, completely disproving this point. When Vargas tells the girl in front of a few other souls, she immediately states she feels as if she's being attacked by others in the room; due to the film's lackluster and empty editing, this comes out of left field since none of the other people in the room said anything that would remotely be considered hateful or attacking.

This wouldn't be such a jarring, consistent issue if White People were the least bit consistent in its editing, or for that matter, encompassing of more than just passing ideas of race. Had this been a longer, better-edited documentary (preferably not for MTV, where it would be treated as a marketing gimmick) or miniseries with forty-one minute episodes examining each of these subjects, White People could've been a truly significant cinematic achievement for race. Yet, the documentary at hand is less a conversation on race and more casual small talk that would make your average conversation whilst waiting in line appear more substantial and impacting.

Directed by: Jose Antonio Vargas.

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