Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Does "Dear White People" place an unnecessary race card? Shot on location in Minneapolis, it brings back memories

Dear White People”, by Justin Simien (from Houston), is a comedy-satire about racial attitudes on an ivy league campus.  The fictitious college is called Winchester University (it reminds me of “Keystone” in “Judas Kiss”) and the film was shot on the University of Minnesota campus, which is rather obvious to someone who lived in Minneapolis for six years.  There’s also a shot of the cathedral in St. Paul.  There’s one scene very near the Ball Auditorium, where I saw many festival films.  The movie has the endorsement of the Minnesota Film Board, which, when I lived there, gave out Mayberry awards every year at the Academy Awards party which because a fundraiser for the Minnesota AIDS Project.  I didn’t see IFPMSP in the credits, but maybe I missed it.  The acting and writing style resembles that of various locally produced independent films when I lived there from 1997-2003. An irony is that Minneapolis is perceived as America’s “White-ist’ city with its Scandanavian heritage. Yet it has large communities from Somalia, Vietnam and China (the Hmong), and native Americans, who own some casinos nearby (Mystic Lake), and who made the name of the Washington Redskins an issue when that NFL football team played recently there.  The native American influence was known in the local Libertarian Party with author Russell Means. 
The comedy explores the two-sided aspect of racism.  Is it all right to just forget about it on campus and let social relationships take their course?  It seems as though some of the characters are picking fights.
The film focuses on four students.  Samantha (any coincidence with “Days of our Lives”?), played by Tessa Thompson, whose radio show “Dear White People” seems bossy:  white students need to have at least two black friends each.  Troy (Brandon Bell) is the son of the dean (Dennis Haysbert, who reminds me of Forrest Whittaker). Coco (Teyonah Parris) sees “solidarity” as an impediment to her own personal success in showbiz.  Lionel (Tyler James Williams) is gay, and has issues with both the expectations from his black community, and the “prejudice” of potential white suitors, but in time he makes a white boyfriend.  Is it racist to say you are attracted only within our own race?   But “race” can be more deceptive than many of us imagine, as many Caucasian people (if they did the DNA work, site http://dna.ancestry.com/ ) would find non-white ancestors they did not know about.  Indeed, the script mentions that president Obama is “half white”.   Biologically, we are all “black” if we go back enough tens of thousands of years, before migrations led man from Africa to colder climates with less sun, and a need to make Vitamin D.  (The question of Neanderthal even seems open.)
The official site is here.  This release is another collaboration between Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.
I saw the film at the Regal Kingstowne 16 in Alexandria, but I mistakenly thought this was the new complex in Springfield; that’s two miles to the west.  The second picture is on the U of M campus, in the fraternity area, from my own little film “Air Raid” (also called "Bill's Clips") shown at the Flaming Film Festival hosted by Intermedia Arts on Lyndale Ave in Minneapolis in 2002. 

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