July 17th, 2014
So I think that I should preface this post by saying that the film “Dear White People” does not come out in theaters until October 17th. All of my opinions and feelings about the film have come from the clips that are on YouTube and the official teaser trailer. It is completely within the realm of possibility that these videos do not represent the film in an accurate light and the actually movie might be spectacular. However, from all that I saw, this doesn’t seem like a film I’m going to enjoy. I’m sure some will find it enjoyable and that at its core it is well-intentioned and informative, but to get to all that it seems like you’ll have to go through a lot to get to it.
From what I’ve gathered, the movie is about the experiences of black students at a fictional Ivy League institution. This hits really close to home for me, seeing as how I am a black student attending Cornell University. Again, I have not seen the movie so any opinion I give is just a first impression, but from the videos and promotional material I’ve seen it seems to be taking a satirical approach by using “stereotypical” black characters that one would expect to meet at an institution such as the one they attend. I think I understand what they were trying to do by using this approach. It goes something like, “use caricatures of typical people to show people how different the experiences can be”. To me though, it seems like people, myself included, will have a hard time sifting through what is hyperbole and what is actually reflective of what the director believes the “black experience” to me. I think that what will end up happening is that people see the movie simply as a comedy that uses stereotypes instead of seeing the truth underneath. This however is more a critique on how I think people will receive the film. My real hesitancy in embracing the film comes from the fact that I’m wary of how the “black experience” is going to be represented.
As a rule, my initial response to anything that “illustrates the experience of (insert group)” is to view it with skepticism. The simple reason for this being that I don’t think any group has a singular experience. I don’t think you can make a movie about the black experience because their are as many black experiences as their are people who self-identify as black; and no two are exactly the same. And because we live in the real world, there’s no way for a director or script writer to touch on every individual experience. So by default there are going to be experiences that are going to be left out. Now, a really talented director or script writer can try and generalize some of these experiences into very broad themes and use those as the themes for the characters (which I assume is what Dear White People will attempt to do). I get uncomfortable because it is still come from the space that “this is what the black experience is like”. I fear that those who do not identify as black will then assume that this movie fully encompasses what it is like to be young and black, which it could never do. I fear that some people will feel ostracized because they do not relate to the film. I fear that some will feel the need to change because they do not fit into any of the molds set by the characters. I fear that black people will again be faced with the question of “what does it mean to be black?” and having to decide who fits in and who doesn’t. But hopefully none of this is true. Hopefully the movie accomplishes everything I think it doesn’t and proves me wrong. But I doubt it.
Channing McNeal is a senior studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. His interests include literature, sports, poetry, philosophy and cooking. Upon graduation he plans to pursue a career in education, specifically working with either the Department of Education or an education focused non-profit. He is the Outreach Coordinator for Scholars Working Ambitiously to Graduate, a mentoring program geared towards increasing the graduation rate of Black men on campus.