By Admiria Cooper
Special to Frost Illustrated
The new movie Dear White People has everybody talking and it’s not even in theaters. African American director, writer and producer Justin Simiens states that with this new film he hopes to “explore racial identity in ‘post racial’ America” and “bring back” the movie styles of movie directors such as Spike Lee.
Dear White People stars Sam, an African American student who struggles with being “a black face in a very white place.” She and the other members of the Black Student Union are tired of the discrimination at their Ivy League university and demand change. Sam decides to create a radio show that addresses the white students and faculty of the university, hence the movie’s title Dear White People.
Simien’s film, as you may guess, has sparked some controversy. The controversy not only comes from some whites who are offended by the subject but also from some blacks who are offended by director Simien’s negative comments toward Tyler Perry. One of the characters in the movie’s trailer states that Tyler Perry’s movies are “stereotypes wrapped up in Christian dogma.” Simien himself stated, “I have no desire to be the next Tyler Perry.” However, according to Simien the purpose of his film is not to criticize Tyler Perry, even though he continually talks about Tyler Perry in the movie and in interviews. Simien states:
“From the time a person is born, television, movies, cliques in school and Abercrombie and Fitch ads subtlety suggest to them on a subconscious level who they should and should not be due to their race, gender, looks and sexual orientation (just to name a few). Identity is a powerful concept. It can open up potential and it can severely limit it.”
He also states:
“When you grow up and you don’t see stories that reflect your experience out there, it can make life harder. It can make your ambitions and your dreams that much further out of reach, so to know there’s a program that’s cultivating diversity in the industry and feeding the culture with these stories that reflect people in the culture, I think that’s huge.”
With this film Simien said he hopes to put more black faces in Hollywood that inspire blacks to be and do something.
One major issue I see with Simien’s argument is he states that the African American “experience” isn’t presented on TV. However, every African American’s experience isn’t the same and many people do relate to Tyler Perry’s “Christian dogma.” I myself attend a private school, so I may be able to relate to his film but not everyone can—that’s why it’s important to have multiple film directors.
Also I feel that you can’t state that one of the most famous and successful African American directors in the world is terrible and title a movie “Dear White People” and not expect controversy. However, I am interested in watching the film since he is making it seem amazing by comparing himself to Spike Lee and by saying essentially that he is better than Tyler Perry. Unfortunately, as I previously stated the movie has not been released so we will have to wait to see if the movie lives up to his expectations.
The film is still in the fund-raising stage, but you can click here to view a trailer now.
Admiria Cooper is a graduating senior at Canterbury High School in Fort Wayne, who served as a student intern at Frost Illustrated this past month as part of the Canterbury Senior Internship Program. Cooper is scheduled to attend Howard University—one of the nation’s premier Historically Black Colleges/Universities—in the fall, majoring in communications.
This article originally appeared in the June 26 print edition.