Dear White People: a film on identity in contemporary America


Dylan HavilandGeneral Assignment Reporter 

Director Justin Simien’s satirical film, “Dear White People” appeared on the screen of the Adanti Student Center’s theater demanding the attention of the audience.  The young director’s skill and determination to perfect his craft was evident through the film.  “Dear White People” marveled at being a film that performs with high production value without making sacrifices to its wit or characters.

The screening of “Dear White People” was an event hosted by grad students in the women studies program, as a part of Southern Connecticut State University’s observation of the 64 Days of Nonviolence: a series of days that observe the wrongs committed and the triumphs achieved towards social justice.

Freda Grant, a grad student and women’s studies major, emphasized on the relevancy this movie had to the current generation of college students concerning social issues.

“It is necessary, I think specifically being on a college campus like Southern, we really don’t have those opportunities to talk about racism or even classism, gender discrimination and sexual discrimination but students are dealing with these things every day and a lot of times you really aren’t getting those discussions in your classroom,” said Grant. “So when I saw this movie was out I thought it was a relevant movie to bring here and start the basis of a conversation.”

“Dear White People” whose plot revolves around black students finding their niche in a prestigious and mainly white university brilliantly sheds light not only on racism in today’s culture but the struggle for one’s identity in both black and white students.

“Racism is a symptom of a society so wrapped up in this dichotomy of black versus white,” said Prof. Yi-Chun Tricia Lin, director of women’s studies.  “So yes identity in the black community, but also identity in the white community as well.  It also makes white students in this very elitist college culture not wrap themselves around it, they have to go to ‘stereotypes.’”

Behind the satirical and comedic stance of the film, it conducts a serious tone on the issues the Millennials carry on to this day.  In the film’s conflicting scenes between black and white students and the struggles inside each group, an audience member recognizes that contemporary America is still not a perfect place.  A country that champions diversity and equal treatment is still at war with itself over identity within communities.

“I think race is an issue not in all aspects of a campus life but hardly talked about.  It’s very often discussed in pockets, so you have different student organizations talking about it in their respective organizations.  But I have yet to see a discussion that is actually with a wider audience,” said Lin.  “We kind of hope that ‘Dear White People’ given the box office success and the attention that it has drawn nationally will bring more people into this discussion.”

After the film was over, the post grad students lead a discussion on these relevant topics with the campus audience.  In a series of questions and answers, the students shared anecdotes and viewpoints of their experiences at universities and in life.  The film tied in the contemporary college student, provoking a meaningful conversation that arose with the audience.

One such audience member, Robbi LaBelle, an alumni, presented her own personal experiences to the audience.

“I have seen phenomenal changes in the last 40 years and it’s all individuals,” said LaBelle.  “Be an individual, be involved, get to know other people because there is no just white, just black, just gay. When you know a person as a human being you change the way you look at them and treat them.”

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