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#HotDocs22 ‘Deconstructing Karen’ Review: A Necessary Watch to Challenge White Supremacy

Photo Credit: HotDocs

One of the most powerful documentaries featured at this year’s HotDocs Film Festival, Deconstructing Karen, is such a necessary watch. While it might be uncomfortable, it’s essential viewing for any white person who thinks of themselves as an “ally”. It’s a stunning and needed rebuke to white women who have been far too complacent for far too long. This is work that’s been undertaken out of immense love, and it shows.

The movie introduces viewers to Regina Jackson, a Black descendant of enslaved people in the United States, and Saira Rao who grew up as the only South Asian student in her school. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as President, these two had an idea, Race2Dinner, aimed at having difficult but necessary conversations about race and racism in America. There’s a single rule to these dinners – no crying at the table.

The concept is simple enough – white women are invited as guests to this dinner, and are prompted to unpack the racism that has pervaded their lives. It’s a necessary exercise, targeting white women in particular. As the movie unpacks, white women are the single greatest threat to the modern world, the BIPOC community in particular. The tears of white women have led to savage murder and have upended the lives of countless innocents.

The copious amounts of shame we white women feel is immediately evident from the beginning. It would have been interesting to see younger white women invited to this dinner, since although some views may have evolved over time, white women of all ages embody the toxicity of racism that has a tangible impact on BIPOC people every day.

Jackson and Rao are exceptionally gracious hosts, even in the middle of the vitriol they’re presented with almost immediately. Their strength is nothing less than aspirational. It’s equally heartbreaking to think that this work is done not in the name of educating nameless white women. It’s undertaken to protect their very lives from the corporeal danger that we white women present. 

The white women paraded out during this dinner are as despicable as they are viscerally relatable in their internalized racism. Even the best intentions full utterly flat, and the ones who are getting it on a surface level clearly have a nearly insurmountable amount of hate to overcome. It’s a grim spotlight, having these women spew their hate so openly. Jackson and Rao’s frustration is more than justified. 

It’s the end of this movie that really packs the punch, however. In spite of all the dialogue and revelations had during this Race2Dinner, the white supremacy engrained in each of the women featured here proves to be too much. The fact that one attendee even threatened legal action against the filmmakers if they were ever contacted again as a follow up to this documentary is just *chef’s kiss*. 

Deconstructing Karen has a powerful message for our current moment. Ultimately, when members of the BIPOC community undertake this work, as is demonstrated here, it’s done out of a deep love. A love for community, and a love for their own lives and families. This movie doesn’t promise an easy journey for white women looking to unpack the lifetimes of racism. It is, however, a worthwhile journey every time. 

Deconstructing Karen has its World Premiere at the HotDocs Film Festival May 3, 2022.

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