‘Dear White People’ examines the life experiences of black students

James Kennedy

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“Dear White People,” an award-winning entry at the Sundance Film Festival, will be shown at Whitman as part of the Power and Privilege Symposium on Thursday, Feb. 19. The showing is open to all Whitman students as well as Walla Walla community members, and it will start at 8 p.m. in Cordiner Hall to end the symposium. The film satirically examines the experiences of black and mixed-race students at a predominantly white school and also discusses conceptions of identity and self.

Unlike many movie showings hosted by the Whitman Events Board, the showing of “Dear White People” was prompted by enthusiastic student requests. Senior Sierra Dickey, the cinema director for Whitman Events Board, was emailed by multiple groups and individuals asking them to show the film at Whitman.

“I usually don’t get requests like that at all,” said Dickey.

Dickey speculates the overwhelming support for the film is related to similarities to the fictional “Winchester University” and Whitman College itself. Not only is it a well-received film, but it is a relevant and important film for Whitman students to see.

“Clearly it’s a great film without its politics, but part of the reason that makes it great is its politics,” said Dickey. “We at the community need these kind of events to critically examine our position and build a better community through doing that.”

Sophomore Ryan Long saw the film in Seattle over last semester’s Thanksgiving break in Seattle, and they praise the film for its depiction of race relations in a white-dominated environment. They believe that Whitman’s administration could especially benefit from viewing the film, as Winchester’s administration handles the schools race problems quite poorly, serving as a warning of what not to do in this type of situation.

“Whitman has a race problem and that’s very obvious,” said Long. “While I’m not an expert on these experiences at all … I hope that people will see this film and start thinking about what they’re doing.”

However, the film goes beyond race relations in its examination of identity and self.

“It’s a piece of media that’s representing something that both black students and white students don’t usually see,” said Dickey. “It’s about how in a place where you’re a minority, there’s a constant struggle about acting out people expect of you, like you feel you need to do, and acting out according to yourself.”

The Power and Privilege Symposium will open with a more serious, information-heavy film by Shakti Butler, the keynote speaker for the event. Senior Natalie Shaw, marketing and communications director for the symposium, said that they chose to show “Dear White People” as part of the conclusion in order to add levity to the event without invalidating the experiences of the rest of the Symposium.

“We decided to screen ‘Dear White People’ as a part of the closing ceremony because we wanted to do something fun that was also relevant to the mission of the Symposium,” said Shaw. “Because the Symposium focuses on creating spaces challenging conversations, participation can be an intellectually and emotionally exhausting experience for some students.”

While the details are still in progress, the showing will be accompanied by a “passive debriefing” of the film’s content. Dickey reiterated that while the film is less serious in tone than a lot of the events, it is by no means a deviation from the ground covered during the Symposium.

“There’s comedy and it’s more celebratory, in a way, but it’s equal parts tragedy and comedy,” said Dickey. “It’s a way to lighten the mood without allowing everyone to go into catharsis.”

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