Let me put you on to your next favorite film.
On Friday March 21, I saw an advanced screening of Dear White People at the Lincoln Center in New York. The film portrays the black student population at a fictional ivy-league school called Winchester University. The protagonist Samantha Price is a fire-starting film student. And her radio show Dear White People has caused quite the stir on campus.
The film is dressed in satire about “being a black face in a white space.” Before the movie was played, director Justin Simien gave this disclaimer to white people in the audience: “On behalf of all the black people in the world, you most definitely have permission to laugh.”
Although this is a fictional account, the art showcased closely mirrors the present-day racism on college campuses in the U.S. as well as abroad. Many of these news stories don’t make the national news and are forgotten about. As more and more African-American students make their way onto these campuses, the feeling of breaking away from one world, is met with the constraints in another world.
Without giving away the plot, I appreciate the variations of Blackness the characters represented. It showed the many roles that African-Americans, and fellow people of color, play as a means to survive in a system of white supremacy. It reminds us that we are not a monolith and we shouldn’t be. The layered characters leave viewers with questions about how we view Blackness when the film stopped rolling.
Samantha Price in particular is the rebel. And as shown in the film’s poster, there is Lionel Higgens, who plays the “token” — a black person who is used by a white group, organization, etc. to fill diversity quotas but is more or less disposable. The “poster child” Troy Fairbanks is the “good Black” man who has assimilated into mainstream culture as a means to get ahead. Coco Conners is the “diva” and has a thirst for materialism and fame and will get it by any means necessary.
After the screening, the director Justin Simien and several actors answered questions about the film. Simien explained that Spike Lee’s School Daze inspired the making of the film. He wanted to create a work that would stir discussion, push buttons and pull strings. He has definitely accomplished that.
I believe the film is very timely. Most recently, a group of African-American students at Harvard created a play called I Too Am Harvard. They also launched a photo campaign of the same title, showing fed up students holding up signs that speak against stereotypical thoughts that have been thrown their way. Oxford and Cambridge students in London have also done similar campaigns.
Last year Sy Stokes, a third year African-American student at UCLA, posted a spoken world performance on YouTube to speak out about the frustrations that comes with being only 4 percent of the student population.
Not to mention, a fraternity at Ole Miss hung a noose on the statue of James Meredith, the first African-American to attend the university in February. A fraternity at Arizona State University threw a “MLK Black Party,” dressed up in jerseys, flashed gang signs and drank from watermelons in February. These incidents are happening all the time, but this film takes the issue and broadcasts it on a wider scale.
The film also doesn’t hold back on the authentic views black people have about racist white people. It was snarky and any black person whether the rebel, poster child, token, diva, etc. could relate.
Like I said, I don’t want to give away the film. But check it out when it drops in theaters this fall, according to their Twitter page. It was a hit at Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered and was given the U. S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. It has also been picked up by Lionsgate.
Congrats to Simien for taking a chance on Dear White People, a game-changing film. Can’t wait to see how the world receives it.