Have you heard of this film? The name definitely grabs your attention doesn’t it? I am sure as a White person even more so. You ask yourself what comes next. “What is in the letter or note or film? What do I need to know from the person writing it that I don’t already know?” What could this movie possibly be about?” Well I am here to give you some answers!
I just finished an interesting AND funny Google Hangout with the director and one of the producers of the film Justin Simien and one of the main characters “Reggie Smith” played by Marque Richardson. They were kind enough to meet with admirers and film enthusiasts prior to its release on October 17th. I first became aware of this film during the Sundance Film Festival in January. A few of my friends in the industry viewed the film and posted about its unique subject matter, its humor and the great acting. I took note of it, “Liked” the Facebook page and have been patiently waiting for its release! At Sundance the film won the US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent.
So what is it about? Dear White People is a satirical drama that takes place on a White Ivy League campus. The film addresses many of the issues Black students face on a majority white campus. Two of the storylines in the film involve 1) A riot that breaks out over a black themed party thrown by White students 2) The closing of an all Black residential hall in the name of diversification. The main character “Tessa Thompson” is a Biracial DJ on campus played by Samantha White. You will also recognize the character of “Lionel Higgins” played by Tyler James Williams of Everybody Hates Chris fame.
Justin Simien spoke a lot about how he wanted to make a film that represented him and the people he knew. He saw a lack of diversity in black roles being portrayed in film. He started writing the movie in 2006 after college and purposefully chose the title to get the word out about the film. Social Media played a huge part in gaining exposure as well as funding through Indiegogo. It opened doors for meetings with producers and movie executives and in the end he chose Code Red films to keep autonomy in making an Independent film based on his original ideas. Racism vs. Prejudice. Since this movie has sparked so much talk of “racism” from people of all races, he addressed the issue of prejudice being an attitude you may have towards a particular race or group but Racism refers to an entire race of people being held back and discriminated against solely based on their skin color. In terms of a take away message he mentioned several times the issue of a person’s identity. Finding out who you are and being OK with it. “My film isn’t about “white racism” or racism at all. My film is about identity. It’s about the difference between how the mass culture responds to a person because of their race and who that person understands themselves to truly be. All explored through the microcosm of a success oriented Ivy league school”.
As soon as I heard about this film it spoke to me. I attended a predominately white college and struggled with my identity during my first year. I arrived from a white suburb in NJ where I was 1 of 3 black people in my class of 165. I tried my best to assimilate which meant “acting white”. When I arrived on the campus of my school I immediately felt more comfortable around the White students. I remember names such as “pseudo” -as in I was “pseudo” Black-being tossed around. I have vivid memories of the invite to my first Black fraternity party. I arrived solo and seeing so many Black people gathered around talking, laughing and dancing to music I didn’t know left me feeling so uncomfortable I left. It took a few Black classmates that kept reaching out, more invitations to parties and events as well as a meeting at the Black Student Alliance for me to find my identity and my comfort zone. I still had White friends and now also had Black friends. By my second year I was immersed in Black culture at this predominately White school and experienced or witnessed many of the issues brought up in the film. My White roommate asking to borrow my shampoo (No, I don’t think you want to use my Care Free Curl shampoo on your straight blond hair), White students asking why we all sat together in the dining halls or needed or own parties. The most offensive- I was only at that school because I was Black thanks to affirmative action. It was truly an unnerving learning experience. Even more interesting at times is after finding my “Black Identity” in college, I have had many Black people question my “Blackness” because of interests I may have in Art, Travel, Food, Pop music and culture and even the way I talk. The question being asked “Where you raised around White people?” Actually, I spent the first 10 years of my life with my family in Jamaica so the answer is no. But, issues of color and race or just not as transparent as they are here in the US.
I commend Justin Simien on bringing these issues to light. If we do not discuss them among ourselves and with other races how can we ever learn and progress together as civilized people?
The film opens in LA, NY, DC and Atlanta on Friday October 17th and Nationwide on the 24th. Do you plan to see it? Have you ever had issues with your identity, prejudice or race? Watch the trailer below and share your thoughts with us! Be sure to follow “Dear White People” on social media and spread the word!