‘Dear White People’ is a movie that follows the stories of four black students at an Ivy League college where controversy breaks out over a popular but offensive black-face party thrown by white students. I had seen the trailer for it a fair while ago, but it took a long time for the film to actually be released, and then it wasn’t being shown anywhere near me, so I unfortunately never got to see it until just now.
I was so excited about this week’s theme. I had been looking forward to it all week, and even tried to explain my excitement to my new coworkers. I think I came across more as weird than enthusiastic, but live and learn.
It was suggested this week mainly because of the very obviously black crows. Ben and I both felt that it wasn’t that bad a representation, especially seeing the era the film was made. What was more offensive to us where the black guys setting up the circus tent. The ones that the animators decided to not bother with giving them faces. The whole scene made me a bit angry, because they had no faces, were shown working alongside elephants (doing what an animal could do, nothing more) and singing about how much they like workin’ hard for the circus. I don’t know if my viewing of that was coloured by the fact I was watching specifically racist movies, but I like to think I would have been disturbed by that even if I was coming to it normally. They gave all the animals more expressions than the black guys. The train had a face. But I guess black guys didn’t matter as much as the circus animals. Ugh.
Film number two was Song of the South. Black Dude tells stories that have fairly obvious morals about animals that live in a fictitious world . Tells them to young children, one of whom is the grandson of the plantation owner that the Black Dude lives on. I think the mother of the kid forbids him from spending time with the Black Dude after a while, but don’t quote me on that. The fact that Americans can’t buy or rent it made me intrigued, so I was eager to watch it. Also I remember going on Splash Mountain when I was a kid and seeing the Brer Rabbit and Brer fox on that so it would be interesting to see them in their original context.
This made me really uncomfortable to watch. First up it was boring and the acting wasn’t great in a way that seemed fairly common of Disney movies from that era. But the fact that all the black people where singing about how great it is to live as slaves kinda soured any positives I had. We’re also pretty sure Uncle Remus was blacked up to be darker, and the lighting of scenes made it so that all you could see were his teeth and eyes. It was pretty creepy. We watched it through the first of the Brer stories and had to turn it off. We kept going “but that wouldn’t have happened at all” or “that’s not how plantations worked” and feeling really disconcerted and not engaged enough to tough it out and watch to the end. I can see why it’s not freely available and don’t understand how people can look at it and think it’s not racist. Blows my mind.
I probably should have realised this, but watching racist movies makes me uncomfortable and feel bad for being in a fairly privileged position in society. I guess I didn’t think that through when I read what this theme would be.
Other racist films that we were recommended were Aladdin (Jafar looks distinctly more ethnic than good ol’ Al), Rescuers Down Under (the villain is a bit darker than the protagonists – stretching it a bit there?) and Peter Pan (red skinned Injuns). I downloaded them all, so I might end up watching the rest of them. However we want to watch all 5 films for the next theme, so that might take up weeknights as well to fit them all in.