‘Dear White People’ handles controversial issues with skill
BY KAYLAH BURTON
Students and faculty from SMU, Paul Quinn College and Austin College gathered Wednesday evening at the Angelika Film Center for an advanced screening of “Dear White People,” a proactive satire of modern-day race relations in a supposed “post-racial” America.
“Dear White People”, winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, focuses on both the collective and unique experiences of four black students at a predominately white Ivy League institution. The lead character, film student Sam White, hosts an independent radio show called “Dear White People” that bluntly discusses the covert, and often overt, racism on the campus of Brighton University.
The film intelligently tackles the taboo issues of race, stereotype and identity headfirst with sharpness, wit and humor.
Laughter was not all the viewing yielded. After the screening the film led to a very real and serious discussion of race relations on college campuses led by Krys Boyd, host of KERA’s two-hour discussion program, Think.
Justin Simien, writer and director of the film, was a member of the panel along with a number of student leaders and academics from each of the participating schools.
“I’m doing this movie because I want to tell a truth. This is a lie that tells the truth and if that truth is going to be complicated and make people squirm and make me uncomfortable… then I’m going to do that, because those are the kinds of experiences as a storyteller and a film goer that have changed my life,” said Simien.
Many SMU students found striking similarities between the campus culture of Brighton University, the fictional predominately white university that was the setting of the film, and the real campus culture of SMU.
“In a lot of ways they were parallel, somewhat identical. The ideologies, the perspective of the student population, both minority and majority, a lot of things overlapped in the film that I see on a daily basis at SMU, “said D’Marquis Allen, SMU junior and president of the Association of Black Students.
The lively discussion was without a doubt stimulated by the diverse crowd, comprised of members of the Dallas community and students from the three area campuses, all united by the desire to not only begin dialogues about racism in America, but also find ways to end it.
The evening, hosted by SMU’s Arts+ Urbanism Initiative in partnership with Paul Quinn College and Austin College, is just one manifestation of a joint initiative between the three institutions to host contemporary conversations about racial justice and human rights issues.
Darryl Ratcliff, community engagement associate for the National Center for Arts and Research Initiative on Arts + Urbanism, felt that the joining together of three area schools was vital in order to foster large and lasting change not only on the campuses, but in the Dallas community.
“If you really want to talk about what it takes to make a movement, for us it’s going to take an area. It’s not just going to be one school, it’s going to be multiple schools working together and that’s an exciting proposition for the future.
“The goal was to try and facilitate those interactions more and more and that’s really communication, organizing, and trust that gets built,” said Ratcliff.
The dialogue didn’t stop at the panel discussion. Just as one would suspect in the millennial age, many students took to social media after the film to express their feelings about what they witnessed.
Mercedes Fulbright, a graduate of University of Texas at Arlington [COMMA] gave her reaction in a Facebook status,[PERIOD] “Identity vs. Self has been my struggle as a college student and Presently as a young professional. Grappling with two worlds. Martin vs. Malcolm battling within my heart. ‘Dear White People’ speaks this truth of identity for so many people. More than just a race relations movie. Hold up a mirror after viewing it and reflect. Justin Siemien is genius.”
“Dear White People” opens in theaters nationwide Friday, Oct.24 and is currently playing at the Angelika Film Center.