Categorized | Viewpoints

Dear White People: Why it’s important

Emerald Rutledge

The first time I saw the film Dear White People, it was at the “I, Too, Am Harvard 2014 Blacktivism Conference” in October of 2014 at Harvard University. The attendees of the conference got to view the film a week before it premiered in theaters and meet with the writer of the film, University of California graduate, Justin Simien. After the screening of the film was over, I was so excited because I thought to myself, “finally there’s a film that shows the lived experiences of black students and other students of color at predominantly white institutions, just like me.”

But at that time, I did not realize how limiting the film was in that it was only relatable to a very small audience in comparison to the amount of black students that attend colleges and universities across the country.

However, I was glad that this film was produced because, in my opinion, white students who attend predominantly white institutions get a glimpse into the minds of black students and other students of color on college campuses. They get an understanding of what runs through our minds when we face microaggressions, when we are discriminated against, and when we are stereotyped. To me, as a black, female student on this campus, that is very important.

Following the screening, the audience got to do a Q&A session with the writer. One thing that I found interesting was that he stated on multiple occasions that he did not consider himself an activist.

He did not see his film as a way of providing tools to fix the problems that students of color and other minorities experience when attending predominantly white institutions. When I saw the film for the second time on our campus, I began to better understand why Simien made such a statement. He did not consider himself an activist because his film did not provide answers or tools on how to deal with the negative experiences that black students and other minorities experience on predominantly white campuses; the film simply showcases a few of the issues that occur.

Another reason that I thought this film was important was that he presented various intersections of identities that also have a huge impact on one’s experience. For example, one of the main characters Coco (or Colandrea) was suffering from very severe colorism and identity issues. Throughout the film, Coco had a very hard time understanding who she was, where she was from, and what she looked like. She also had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that there was not very much she could do to change those things. She was a dark-skinned girl from the south side of Chicago, and she could not accept that. One thing that would have made the film even more interesting was if Coco was more deeply explored. In my opinion, Simien could have made Coco much more multi-dimensional.

I feel the same way about the character Lionel. Lionel was a black, queer male who had a hard time being accepted by the black community and was constantly humiliated and subjugated by members of the white community. I yearned to see this character explored much more as well, but I did not get that. Overall, I feel that in many ways the film, based off of Simien’s goal, did its job; however, if there ever were a sequel, I would love to see all the main characters explored more

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