Saturday, October 18, 2014
Tinsel and Tine would like to introduce a new Blog Contributor - Mikhail Revlock
who's first assignment was to cover the interview with writer/director Justin Simien
Justin Simien’s Dear White People (click for trailer) follows the lives of four black students during a racially charged semester at the Harvard-esque Winchester University. Sam White (Tessa Thompson), accustomed to dishing out satirical advice as the host of the titular radio show, attains new found clout when she is elected president of her traditionally black residence hall, Armstrong Parker House. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), the well-liked son of the dean (Dennis Haysbert), struggles to meet the high expectations of his father while concealing his weed habit and joke-writer aspirations. Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams), a “technically black” Mumford & Sons fan finds acceptance at the all-white student newspaper when he volunteers to cover the growing civil unrest at Armstrong Parker. Colandrea “Coco” Conners (Teyonah Parris) films a viral video about the proper use of the word “weave,” and plots to exploit the burgeoning tension for reality television.
Filmgoers expecting a traditional black college film in the vein of Drumline, The Great Debaters, and Higher Learning, may be surprised by the unique aesthetic of Dear White People, complete with an elegant mise–en–scène, numerous master shots, and an abundance of visual references to classic films.
Like Spike Lee, Simien’s work is often motivated by contentious issues. “Rings,” his senior thesis at Chapman University, draws a parallel between interracial and gay marriage. Though Simien describes “Rings” as a “message movie,” he feels that this categorization does not apply to his feature debut. “None of the characters agree on the message in Dear White People,” he explains. “I never want to make a point without making a counterpoint.” This evenhanded approach is highlighted in a tense confrontation between Sam White and Kurt Fletcher, the outspoken, white son of the university president. For every cutting remark about white privilege in Sam’s arsenal, Kurt has a ready answer regarding affirmative action.
In an era of cinema inundated with superheroes, teen dystopias, and “reimaginings,” it will come as no surprise that #DearWhitePeople was a difficult production to finance. In fact Simien wrote the screenplay knowing that few studios would take the bait. Determined to develop a following for the project, he began tweeting Sam’s acerbic thoughts on interracial dating, token friendships, and inappropriate hair-touching. The public response to the twitter handle and eventual concept trailer was enthusiastic, and he soon raised $40,000 in funding through Indiegogo.
Code Red Films provided the remainder of the budget. Upon touring the festival circuit, Simien’s film scored the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance. Critics have received it with rapturous acclaim. Although Simien is pleased with the accolades, he remains cautiously optimistic about Dear White People’s box office viability.
“It’s important that people come out to see this film,” Simien says with a laugh. “Not just because I made it, and I want it to do well but because I miss this genre".
I feel like a lot of the positive reaction we’ve received come from people who miss hearing specific, singular voices in cinema. There are a lot of talented people who are trying to get through the door, and movies like mine have to be successful to ensure their voices are heard.” Simien’s film is an increasing rarity. Thought-provoking and powerful, Dear White People (click for facebook page) marks the arrival of an exciting new talent and represents a bold alternative to mainstream cinema. Its creative value far exceeds the price of the ticket.
Dear White People Opens in Philly Friday, October 24th
Mikhail Revlock is a freelance journalist and fiction writer. His hobbies include bicycles, books, and food. A Philadelphia native, he lives in University City with his girlfriend and two cats.
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