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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Dear White People - Coming to a cinema near you soon - or perhaps not!

The reluctance of the UK film industry to support black produced and directed films and / or films exploring the issue of race / racism is not a new situation but behind the scenes those involved in trying to get such films screened in cinemas and prevent them going straight to DVD / Blue Ray is a thankless and often unseen task.
This is why Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK has teamed up with The New Black Film Collective to campaign for Dear White People to be screened in cinemas in July when it goes on general theatrical release in the UK. TNBFC is one of only two black run film distribution companies in the UK and the only black female distribution company. 
Following the withdrawal of lottery funding by the BFI and the withdrawal of Picture House Cinemas in showing the film we have launched a joint petition. SIGN THE PETITION HERE
Dear White People is the creation of black director and writer Justin Simien.  It explores race, racism and identity and is set on a University Campus.  If the film is being rejected because it is perceived to be for black audiences that's bad enough but the clue in the title makes clear that it is not a film aimed only at black audiences.  As a satirical comedy it is a film that can be enjoyed by everyone and the messages in the film are relevant to all. So we are asking you to please sign the petition and share widely but to also contact your local cinemas and ask them to screen it and if they refuse to ask the question why?
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Petition Letter 
'Dear White People' is an award winning USA produced satirical comedy-drama film set on a University campus, directed and written by Justin Simien. The film won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Justin Simien has been named in Variety magazine's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.
The film is due for general theatrical release in the UK from July 10thbut so far very few cinemas have agreed to screen the film with no cinemas agreeing to standard full 7 day run. 
The BFI has refused lottery funding to the New Black Film Collective (one of only two black film distribution companies in the UK), which would have supported the distribution of the film with no justifiable reasons given and a major independent arthouse cinema chain has turned it down even though they stated that they like the film.
The suggestion that the film is not mainstream enough and is only suitable for black audiences is not true at all. We believe the film is current and relevant for all audiences in the UK as is evident from the film synopsis below. 
We believe that the response to 'Dear White People' by the UK film industry is part of a wider problem of institutional racism in the industry, whereby films featuring black characters, exploring race and identity and / or made by black producers / directors  are repeatedly rejected for theatrical release, meaning that they go straight to DVD  / Blue Ray release unless they portray black people in negative stereotypical roles or there is a tokenistic response of one-off screenings linked to cultural events such as Black History Month with very limited or no screenings outside of London. 
We believe that 'Dear White People' and other intelligent films exploring the issues of race, racism, identity and intersectionality should be available for mainstream and diverse audiences to view and enjoy and are important in creating dialogue about the issues and in tackling racism.  The issues explored in the film are relevant to UK audiences, tackling racism is a responsibility of all, not just those on the receiving end.  A study carried out by the National Union of Students found that one in six black students in UK universities had experienced racism in their institution, a third felt their educational environment left them unable to bring their minority perspective to lectures and tutorials, and 7% openly labelled their learning environment as "racist".
Many linked their experiences of racism with a drop in their self-esteem, confidence, motivation and desire to continue their education, reporting that they felt marginalised and socially excluded. Worse still, we continue to hear stories of how black students are being pushed down before they've even really had a chance to get their feet off the ground.
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 92% saying;
'Dear White People adds a welcome new voice to cinema's oft-neglected discussion of race, tackling its timely themes with intelligence, honesty, and gratifyingly sharp wit.'
The New York Times said of it;
'Everyone should see this movie, and everyone will see it a little differently. Maybe you will think it goes too far, or not far enough. Since I happen to belong to the group to which it is explicitly addressed, a direct response seems warranted. Dear “Dear White People”: Got your message. Keep in touch.'
Variety said:
'“Dear White People” nonetheless provokes admiration for having bothered to ask some of the hard questions without pretending to know any of the answers. It also works as a fine showcase for its actors: Fleshing out characters that could have been little more than one-note mouthpieces, Williams, Thompson, Parris and Bell all make strong, distinctive impressions, with Thompson perhaps the standout as the film’s sharpest and most enigmatic figure.'
We call on cinema chains across the UK to screen 'Dear White People' when it is released in July and to consider screening it for 7 day runs or more and for the BFI to reverse its decision not to provide lottery funding for the distribution of the film. It is important that they are held to account on their commitment and promises around diversity. 
Film Synopsis: 
Sam White is a mixed race film production major at Winchester University, a prestigious and predominantly white school. With her sharp tongued and witty radio show Dear White People and her self-published book, Ebony and Ivy, Sam causes a stir among the administration and student body alike, criticising white people and the racist transgressions at Winchester.
When Sam wins the election for head of house of Armstrong/Parker, the all black house on campus, tensions rise. In winning the election, she beats her ex-boyfriend Troy Fairbanks, the son of the school's dean. Troy harbors dreams of being a comedic writer rather than a lawyer, but his father prefers that he not give white people a chance to profile him, and will accept nothing less than his best. Coco has an issue with Sam because the reality TV producer she is trying to win over would rather do a show on the witty light-skinned black girl than her. Lionel Higgins, a black gay student, gets a chance at finally finding his place at Winchester by being recruited by the school's most prestigious student paper to write a piece on Sam and the black experience at Winchester. When Kurt, a white student and son of the school's president, and his club come up with a blackface theme for their annual party in response to Sam's outspoken show, black students appear at the party, and a confrontation ensues, leading to a brawl.
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK & The New Black Film Collective 
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One way to support the campaign is to purchase a ticket for the screening of Dear White People at Prince Charles Cinema so that they can release the film during opening weekend.

You can also get updates about screenings on the Dear White People UK Facebook page via the link below. 

There will be a special preview of the film screened in the Houses of Parliament followed by a post film discussion - details to follow in due course. 

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