WaterCoolerConvos

Sundance Prized Film ‘Dear White People’ Has a Release Date [INTERVIEW]

dear-white-people_784x0One of the year’s most exciting films, ‘Dear White People‘, is coming to a theater near you on October 17th. The breakout film is the recipient of the Sundance Film Festival 2014 U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. I was lucky enough to speak to Brandon Bell and Marque Richardson, two stars from the film, about their roles and the current state of Black Hollywood.

Justin Simien’s ‘Dear White People’ (or DWP) is a satire, said to be in the vein of many Spike Lee film. Brandon Bell described the film as an exploration of the journey of four black college students of diverse backgrounds.

Bell: “There’s the pro-black Sam White {played by Tessa Thompson} whose radio show is called ‘Dear White People’; there’s Coco {played by Teyonah Parris} who is the wig/weave wearing blue-eyed but dark skinned black girl who is willing to do anything, willing to sell her soul for a little bit of attention and fame; there’s Lionel {played by Tyler James Williams} who is kind of the “token negro”, he’s got the fro, glasses, non-threatening, kind of nerdy, kind of has an identity secret of his own; and also myself, Troy Fairbanks, who is kind of the poster child, can kind of go between different circles, doesn’t quite know who he is but just wants to win as well.”

Two of the major working pieces within the film are some explosive comments that Sam White says on her radio show as well as a riot that is sparked by a “black party” that some students are throwing on campus. Just like that seemingly rampant practice that has taken place across the nation, these parties turn black culture into something to be exploited and made fun of.

This film seems also oddly serendipitous as the “I Too Am Harvard” campaign recently hit social media demanding attention on the ongoing isolation of black people on Harvard’s campus. As we are all USC alumnae who lived on the campus’ black-themed floor, I asked if their experience there informed their roles in the film. Though both noted that their experiences were much more positive than what takes place in DWP, they did share insights on the similarities.

Richardson: “I told Brandon…and I told our director Justin…that it didn’t hit me that, Brandon and I, we lived this until we were at Sundance actually. It was like, we lived this. Being a black face in a white place and going back home to share that experience of ‘Oh, that professor told me that it was a good thing that I got out of the hood,’ or ‘No, I don’t eat fried chicken.’ … The movie explores being able to come back home and being able to share the wilderness of it all.”

Bell piggybacked on Richardson’s sentiments.

Bell: “The movie is absolutely tongue-in-cheek amidst the very harsh racial topics of the film. It’s interesting how DWP just brought more attention to things that were already existing for years. And after certain screenings having  people come up to us and mention, almost relive and retell, these stories of these “race parties” and just their other experiences from feeling that they are at a disadvantage… It’s funny now that this film is out and there is more attention on it, I am definitely starting to notice things more. These parties that are happening, its almost like since the film came out they are doing a DWP nationwide tour.”

But if nothing else, attending screenings for the film across the country has shown that this not just another “black movie.” The movie cast a spotlight on how it feels to be a minority trying to work amongst the majority. And that experience is not owned by one minority group.

Bell: ” It’s bigger than just a black and white issue. I think every racial group in this country that’s been underserved, that’s a minority, has a story to tell. And this film just happens to be written and directed by an African American so it focuses on that. But there is definitely relevance across the board, across colorlines.”

Richardson agreed.

Richardson: “We have different people coming up to us after screenings…saying ‘This is my story too. Thank you for telling this story because it is my story too.’ … There was one specific girl that was Latina … she came up and was like ‘Thank you for telling the story because we experience that too.’ So it’s universal.”

Looking back on their experience filming, screening the movie, and being working black actors in Hollywood, I asked about their views on art and satire as a means for communicating difficult topics like race. From their responses, it is clear that it all comes down to execution.

Bell: “Art and entertainment has always been used since ancient times to educate people. We are storytellers by nature. It allows us…to sit back and see the things that are going on in society and make decisions for ourselves.”

Richardson echoed Bell’s sentiments but took a different perspective.

Richardson: “If you look at comedians from Moms Mabley or Richard Pryor or Kathy Griffin or all these people, what they are saying might not be politically correct, but in speaking to an audience, you are feeding people things that that don’t necessarily want to hear but you can do that because you can make them laugh. Or if they’re not laughing you’re still catching their attention but it is a soft way of feeding something to somebody. Comedy is a tool as long as you have something meaningful to say.”

Everything in entertainment is cyclical. One minute you’re up and then suddenly you are waiting for your next turn at bat. But the recent explosion in black cinema seems like it might have staying power this time. Richardson noted that he is “hopeful” about the direction in which things seem to be moving, and he made special mention of how technology and social media have allowed for more talented individuals to get the attention they deserve. Bell, on the other hand, pointed to something on a much larger scale.

Bell: “I think people are ready for it. From the screenings, I think people of all walks of life (age, gender, race) are just ready for something different. With all of the tent poles and remakes, people are just getting bored and not easily giving up their money. It is allowing studios to take more risks. It’s definitely going to be a slow progression, but it’s obvious and apparent already in the industry.”

I can’t help but agree. If nothing else, ‘Dear White People’ is evidence that people around the country are ready to see a different take on entertainment. Luckily for Brandon and Marque, they got to be a part of it while it was happening.

Many congrats to my fellow USC grads for their immense success. It is only going to get better from here.

 

To learn more about the film and it’s cast, head over to the website. You can also ‘like’ them on Facebook and follow on Twitter.


Now, my webcam was possessed by a demon that day but you can watch the full interview below.

 

You can see more clips from the movie below:


Are you going to go see the movie? What do you think about the movie’s message? Sound off in the comments below!

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Daren W. Jackson

Co-Founder/Editor
Daren is one half of the Water Cooler Convos team. He's a writer, music connoisseur, and comic book geek who spends his free time working on his novel and other short stories.

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