On Contemporary Film:
Briana Ginyard 28 May 2016
Red Dust: A Journey to Reconciliation
Released during 2004, Tom Hopper’s Red Dust revisits the aftermath of the apartheid. South Africa avoided inducing into a civil war by a revolutionary experiment of justice by assembling the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Their mission was one of justice in hopes of avoiding a bloody civil war. Those who had committed acts violence on behalf of the government had the chance to be granted amnesty and left unpunished if they confronted their victims and truthfully confessed to their heinous crimes. Red Dust tells the tale of hometown hero and politician Alex Mpnodo who is forced to relive his torture and political imprisonment due to the actions of officer Hendricks. With the help of a lawyer named Sarah Barcant, they both must visit the past to reclaim the trajectory of the future to uncover the truth about what exactly happened to Alex Mpondo and the missing body of his comrade Steve Sizelia. The Prime Minister of South Africa once said, “Let us shut the door on the past, not to forget it but to let it no longer imprison us”, this quote was stated at the beginning of the film and rose the question for me, does remembering the past help healing or does it simply re-traumatize the victim? After watching this film, I came to the conclusion that while the Truth and Reconciliation Committee had the purest of intentions and did stop a civil war from inducing, the committee re-opened old wounds and re-traumatized many of the victims while being on the quest for truth and justice, this is made evident in the film Red Dust. This truth is made evident with the film technique of crosscutting and usage of the props that were used for torture and their re-occurrence within the courtroom. The way Red Dust begins suggests that Alex Mpondo, the hometown hero and politician has seemingly moved on from the events that happened to him and Steve. He seems uncomfortable with the presence of Sarah and has no hope in revisiting the past until the parents of Steve ask him to go before the committee so they could receive answers to their unanswered questions about the whereabouts of their missing son. His loyalty to Steve’s parents is what provokes him to endure re-hearing the tales of his tortures from Hendricks point of view. Once the committee is underway, the film uses the conscious decisions to use quick crosscuts of Alex Mpondo being tortured to accompany the stories being told by Hendricks. The usage of crosscuts is a smart decision because it helps make the torture not too unbearable for the audience to watch which keeps them engaged and places them directly in the scene. Throughout the trial, the director uses the technique of close-ups to expose to the audience the physiological disturbance within Alex. For example, there is one scene where the court brings in a sack that was used by Hendricks to suffocate Alex. The camera does quick crosscuts between the bag and a close up of Alex that depicts him becoming physical ill to the point where he runs outside of the courtroom to throw up. Alex being in front of his torturer once again and seeing the exact weapons that were used against him and Steven catapults him back into that sacred space of tortured and slowly begins to traumatize him once again.
Malcolm X and Selma: Two Sides Of The Same Coin
Amongst a host of people who’s name we will never know two key influential forces in the Civil Rights Movement were Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Both of these leaders fought for the same cause, they wanted there to be equal rights for those of the African American community but their approaches this common goal were starkly different. In history, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are painted as being polar opposites, or to be two opposing forces but in actuality they were each perpetuating the many different ways that black protest is manifested in the face of adversity. Currently in America, there has been a re-generation of a new imagery of black protest due to social media and the Black Lives Matter movement. Contrary to the era of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm, today acts of injustice spread like wildfire due to social media and it’s ability to be spread over the World Wide Web in a matter of seconds. No longer can the major news outlet have total control over what individuals see. Despite the different aesthetic appeal black protest has today, the fight for the inclusivity of African American is not a new struggle within America. The same way that there is no one way to perpetuate black identity there is no way to perpetuate black protest. This truth is made evident in the life and times of both courageous leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr seen in both the cinematic tales of their lives Malcolm X and Selma.
In both of these films, the audience is exposed to the complexity and multiplicity of black protest and would walk away with the understanding that there is no singularity in the way that protest takes form. For example, in Malcolm X, black protest takes more of militant stance. Before Malcolm’s trip to Mecca, he preached to many African Americans that to fully receive justice we must forcefully take it from the white dominating forces by “any means necessary”. The cinematic usage of flashbacks to Malcolm’s violent upbringing suggest that the violence he experienced in youth had a great influence in the way he presented his message towards black protest. Many of Malcolm’s comrades, followers and himself highly criticized Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach towards protest. Selma depicts Martin Luther King Jr. during the most influential period within The Civil Rights Movement in Selma Alabama. This film paints Martin Luther King Jr. to be quite a peaceful man and that energy transpired into the way that he approached protest. To further make this truth evident to the audience director Ava Devunay, uses the cinematic approach of soft lighting and sound to convey this message of peace. For example, when Dr. King was giving a speech within the church, the lighting on his face created somewhat of a halo effect that suggested that Martin had some angelic aspect to him that transpired into his message of black protest. While both of these films show quite starkly different approaches to black protest at it cores black protest whether acted out with a militant or peaceful approach shared the same foundation of simply wanting justice and basic human rights given to African Americans.
The Language of District 9
South Africa has eleven official languages, Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu, along with other unofficial languages. With that being said, most South Africans speak more than one language. Language can be the biggest barrier between people. It is hard to communicate without verbal expressions and understanding. Language has a lot of meaning to people. It gives a sense of nationalism, history, community, and status. It is a part of our identities and how we connect with one another. In a country that has multiple languages, its easy to see a disconnect between communities. These language barriers can be argument for why we don’t understand one another, but even so it doesn’t change the fact that we are still human and have rights. In the movie District 9, the aliens have a language of their own. When conversing with the South African officials, they speak their language while the South Africans speak English. It is evident there seems to be a general understanding of one another when it comes to verbal communication. Even so, the xenophobic society refuses to accept the aliens. Besides the physical appearances of the aliens, they are not very different from humans. They have families, have intelligence, think consciously, have feelings, and function in daily society of District 9. The aliens are given no rights and in the movie the government is forcibly moving them to concentration camps. They are obviously not seen as human even though people can fully understand and communicate with them.
The sounds they make are an interesting addition made in the film. The language of the aliens is very distinct, they make sounds only they could make. It adds to the sounds already within the film while the score is simple and sticks to the South African roots unlike most science fiction movies. The noises and sounds they make are supposed to add to their repulsion. It is also intriguing how the people who created the aliens gave them human like body language like shrugging the shoulders and sympathetic facial expressions. The aliens were created to really only have a biological difference with the human species. They are relational creatures just like us and that makes the viewer lean on the side of the aliens.
Everything in the movie is put there with intention to elicit a reaction from the viewers. In the beginning it’s the repulsiveness and unknown reality of an alien species living on earth. But as the movie continues, the reaction of the audience changes. The repulsiveness shifts from the aliens to the people testing and killing them. This leads the viewers to sympathize and empathize with the aliens and without even realizing it; they find themselves disgusted with their own race. Watching South Africa repeat its history in a different way really reminds us of what happened during the Apartheid. It also reflects on the crisis that is playing out in the world today with millions of refugees seeking safety in Europe and all over the West.
This is a movie that I know I will never forget. It is a painful movie to watch, but it is also something you can’t look away from. When a movie speaks truth and reflects shame on us as a species it is hard to accept, but most of the time those are the best films. District 9’s intentionality in all aspects of the movie makes the viewer see the reality over time rather than all at once. Its what makes the little things so interesting like that of the language spoken by the aliens, as well as the clothes they wore, the food they ate, and the houses they lived in. District 9 is to represent the real District 6, and these small things are also a reflection of the lives of those who lived in District 6 during the Apartheid. That is why it is challenging for me to understand why there is still xenophobia even when we can communicate and understand each other.
Study Abroad Orientation/ Response to District 9—how does reconciliation require changing into a hybrid of the Other?
The story of Wickus’ transformation into an alien “prawn” characterizes the necessity of hybridization in reconciliation. The humans and aliens were clearly split, so any experience one group had would be different than that of the “other.” In order for their differing situations to be understood, someone would have to live through a hybrid life. In District 9, Wickus became that hybrid, though his liminal experience disabled true reconciliation between aliens and humans. At the beginning of the film, the documentary style limits the audience to a single perspective from the viewpoint of the humans. Their government, institutions, neighborhoods, and attitudes are portrayed without alien input. The introduction plays on the theme implemented by science-fiction films that characterizes aliens as the enemy. This assumption that humans are fighting against evil invaders is not challenged until the team starts going into District 9 and the audience is shown life from an alien’s perspective. Even then, no character experiences both worlds and the humans’ views are limited despite seeing the oppression in District 9. Because they only see aliens as “other,” they do not look for any commonalities. When Wickus is exposed to the black substance and his transformation begins, he is forced into the “other” category. He is experimented on by the MNU, where he experiences first-hand humanity’s treatment of the aliens. After he escapes, he has to survive in the government camp and he is enlightened to the alien experience even more. His situation puts him in a unique position of hybridization as he has lived in the worlds of both the oppressor and the suffering Situations such as Wickus’ are essential in reaching reconciliation. When we limit ourselves to a single story and experience, we are closed off to any other view. By witnessing the world of the “other,” we open ourselves up to someone else’s struggle and we can empathize with their pain. Without this breaching of barriers, we won’t be able to build a bridge of understanding.
But becoming a hybrid isn’t easy. As Wickus experienced, his transformation put him into a position of liminality where he was not truly human or alien. Rejected by his family yet still appearing human, he could not be accepted in either world until his transformation was complete. Maybe that is how it works with reconciliation as well. If we only partially open ourselves to more than one story, we begin a transformation that doesn’t end until we truly accept someone else’s experience. Even then, we do not become “other,” yet we are not the same as before. Being liminal is a whole other category, but it is in this place that reconciliation is formed.
In film, art and music, the ability to create an emotional impact that lasts with an audience is the most powerful. Tsoti ends with an upward shot of Tsotsi’s hands in the air, after the baby has been returned and the police have him surrounded. There is a beauty in the way the film ends. There is an incredible impact on the audience with an ending that is so open to interpretation and it lets us grapple with our own feelings and allows us to create our own images of what happens. I am writing this ending in favor of the other two endings: one where Tsotsi dies and the other where Tsotsi escapes and runs away.
This movie is about the idea of redemption. At the end of the movie, Tsotsi throws his hands up and the parents watch him and the film ends with that shot of his hands upward in the air; almost Christ-like in his stance and wearing white, with the light shining on him. The beauty of this ending is that it allows for us to interpret our thoughts and feelings towards this situation and to decide what will happen to Tsotsi, or what should happen to Tsotsi.
The first alternative ending shows Tsotsi reaching into his pocket for the milk bottle and being shot and killed. This ending, I believe, is too dramatic and takes away from the previous scene that had moved us so much. Also it does not allow for Tsotsi to experience any sort of redemption, and is almost frustrating to watch. In the commentary the director even agrees that is is quite dramatic and took us away from the drama that had just occurred. I have to agree.
The second alternative ending shows a fate that we wanted in the back of our minds, but did not actually want to see as an ending. In order for Tsotsi to experience this true redemption, I think it is not the best alternative to have him run away and escape. We have built up all of these qualities in Tsotsi leading to his ultimate act of redeeming himself by returning the baby. To just run away like that, seems a bit of a step back to his old, childish ways. It is also very unrealistic for someone to escape a wall of armed policemen and make it out safe. It is better to have the audience wishing that he escaped rather than actually having him escape. The open ended conclusion creates a sympathetic response in the audience, allowing us to feel for Tsotsi and wish for certain endings and to wish that he could escape and be free but also to know that it is an unlikely possibility in our world.
Both of these alternative endings show a sealed, forced fate of Tsotsi, while the original ending allows us to have different opinions and thoughts on it and it even lasts longer than having a closed ending. We wrestle with our thoughts at night wondering whether Tsotsi was arrested, if someone stepped in, if he escaped or was shot and that kind of feeling is what I believe makes a movie very impactful. Because it stays with you. It encourages discussion and opinions and creativity and allows this idea of redemption to fully shine through in the movie.
I am writing this blog from Dear White People on how the film is shot to express the theme of identity in the film. The director, I believe has used many techniques to create an artistic and intentional perspective that gives us an image of how the characters see themselves, each other and how the people around them see them as well.
Visually, the film uses an interesting concept, where the character’s face is in the screen and they are looking right at you. In the beginning Lionel is staring directly at us. It is as if in that moment, we are getting a view of their identity and how they see themselves or how others see them. Also, many times when Samantha speaks, her face is in the corner of the screen pointed down.
This movie is about identity and the relationships between identity and who we really are. Because of that, visually, the film is attempting to say something about how identity can be like a theatrical experience and show how identity can be portrayed through film.
When characters speak at many points, the lights are placed on them, and their face is centered in the screen and it gives them almost a monologue stage to perform on. When Sam is describing her frustrations with racial ignorance and racism, her face will be placed in the upper corner of the screen, and the camera is looking down above her, with the lights shining on her face, like she s giving a solo or monologue. There will be nothing else in the shot, just darkness and her face. It is a powerful effect and a very theatrisized (is that a word?) way of showing the themes of identity in the film. Even in big groups, in the cafeteria, each group goes back and forth in the film, almost as if each get their own West Side Story moment, giving a group vs group effect. These shots with each group seem to give an example of the group identity formed in the movie, and the tensions between them as each group and gets a full shot and the camera goes back and forth.
Another technique the film does is to have the characters look directly into the lenses at us through the screen. When this happens, it seems as If this is a powerful moment where the character is showing how they are seeing themselves and how they are seen through the lens of how they feel seen by other people. This technique is very effective as a narrative for each character as they are going through changes in their identity and figuring out who they are how they are seen. At the movie theater, the group is placed all together and the characters are all looking at the camera, yelling at the poor guy in the box office. It is used to create a more personal effect on us the satirical motives in the movie to promote awareness of racial tensions and identity.
These techniques in the film create a modern, artistic way to express themes of identity, race class and how we can be placed in these identity “groups” based on our race, sexuality, etc. This is a very effective way of showing these political issues in a satirical way. Dear White People uses a different, lighter way to express a very poignant issue in our world and the film techniques give it a sense of theatrical meaning and create a more meaningful experience.
“Shrimp”: The Use of Subtext and Underlying Racism in “District 9”
The movie “District 9” shows us not only a drama filled alien versus human story, but reveals a very true and hard story of District 6 in South Africa. The similarities are uncanny, as one watches and hears the hardships and prejudice that the aliens undergo in the face of human supremacy. Similarities like the experimentation on the aliens, including electric shock, killing or taking children away from their parents, and the blatant racism shown towards the aliens in District 9 mirror the horrors that the people of District 6 faced not too many years ago.
One racial comment I thought particularly interesting was the slang term created to describe this new alien life form: shrimp. The animal of shrimp was chosen as a description word for these creatures due to the similarities in features, such as antennas and claws. But calling these alien creatures ‘shrimp’ does something else as well: it dehumanizes them. By putting these beings on the same plane as an animal (a bottom-feeding, ultimately defenseless animal), they are placed below the human race. Not only so, but it mirrors all too closely the racial slurs used, still today, to describe the black race. When I heard the term ‘shrimp’ used for the first time, I instantly thought of ‘gorilla’ being used to describe blacks. These words turn the aliens; turn the blacks, into animals, with lesser intelligence and power than the human race, the supreme, which race. By placing humanity on a scale, with the white supremacy residing at the top, there will always be racial tension and prejudices that occur. By using this term, however, paired with our switched view of the aliens and humans towards the end, brings attention to this horrible practice. With the use of slang so similar to slang used today, “District 9” perhaps hopes to call attention to the absurdity and wrongness of such descriptions and assumptions of a certain peoples.
Without knowing the history of the apartheid, however, once could easily miss these underlying racial themes. Only upon learning about the dreaded things that occurred in District 6: the uprooting people from their home, the taking of their children, the experiments on their bodies, the poison given to them through clothes, the throwing of people from helicopters, the forcing of people to become spies, etc. all reside in the movie “District 9,” even in small, underlying ways. The occasional use of the word “shrimp,” for one example, instantly grabbed my attention. Though not used every time to describe the aliens, it is clearly used in a malicious and condescending way. As the inspiration for the film becomes clear, the derogatory term, too, grows and becomes more and more sinister.
The animalistic, dehumanizing affects of using words like these has affected our society for too long, and this movie calls out our flaws. It is only through knowing our history, and the history of those around us, that we fully understand how we can move forward. There can be no improvement without acknowledgment of a flaw. That is what “District 9” is trying to do: teach us how to improve the social construct that is racism. By holding a mirror up to society, this movie is calling out not just the people of South Africa, but the people of the world who have seen this type of tragedy and ignored it, or who have partaken in this type of tragedy and seen nothing wrong, and calls them to do something about it. Through this dehumanizing and derogatory language, the truth can be revealed, and hopefully a change can come of it.
Every scene in this movie has meaning and significance, but the one that is my favorite is the scene where Tsotsi takes the baby he accidentally stole to Miriam who is a widow that lives alone with her young son. Tsotsi takes the baby to her because he needs help feeding it. This is the second time Tsotsi has taken the baby to Miriam and at this point he has named the baby David and calls David his own. The first time Tsotsi takes David to Miriam he has a gun; this time he does not have a gun. The lighting in the room is dark. While Miriam is feeding David, Tsotsi looks around and notices some mobiles Miriam made. He asks about one that is rusty and Miriam tells Tsotsi that she made it when she was sad. When he asks about the colorful one made out of the broken stained glass, she tells him she made it when she was happy. She points out the light shining onto Tsotsi reflecting off of the pieces of the stained glass. The stained glass is broken and fractured, just like Tsotsi. The light reflecting onto Tsotsi from the stained glass represents the better person he is slowly becoming and the hope for him to positively change. The darkness in the room can be related to the darkness that is still within Tsotsi. This scene is one of the many turning points for Tsotsi as he grows throughout the movie. Despite all of the dark he has been through, there is still light inside of him. He has grown to care for the infant he accidentally stole. Miriam is a positive influence on him and is the person who gives him the last push he needs to return the baby in the end of the movie. David and Miriam contribute to the dim light in Tsotsi growing brighter. He eventually searches and strives for reconciliation with the people in his life that he had done wrong to. The peace he makes with others is what allows him to find peace within himself. Righting his wrongs brings Tsotsi personal reconciliation. The film does not address whether or not Tsotsi reconciles with his past. He thinks about his past and how it has changed him, but does he accept it?
There are two repeating themes throughout the movie. One of them is a path Tsotsi walks on. Each time he hits a major turning point in his life or is about to hit a major turning point, the camera shows a birds eye view of Tsotsi walking on a path. This path is symbolic of his life path. The second repeating theme is the flaskbacks Tsotsi has. These flashbacks allow the audience to slowly piece together Tstotsi’s past. One of the flashbacks show Tsotsi’s mom who dies of an illness and because of his mom being sick, his dad turns into an angry, mad, controlling drunk. His dad kicks the dog twice one night and the dog’s back ends up breaking and it dies. This is when Tsotsi leaves his house and starts providing for himself. He is just a boy in this flashback. The flashback ends with a birds eye view of Tsotsi walking on a path.
There is brokenness in South Africa, similar to how there is brokenness in Tsotsi. In South Africa there has been healing and reconciliation. There is the possibility of light to take over the darkness. Will it actually change? There are many different outcomes. This is all so relatable to Tsotsi. The director of the film provided three different endings to the film. The audience chooses which one they like, but there is no definite ending. All three have different meanings and all three leave the audience with questions. There is no real closure with any of the endings. All three left me with one question in common: Will there be reconciliation?
Red Dust, a film about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, shares the truth of the painful injustice that happened during the apartheid. This film shows the story of Alex Mpondo and Steve Sizela, two men who were tortured by policemen, Hendriks and Piet. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) requires full disclosure of past events in order for the accused to receive immunity. The TRC provides, “windows of opportunity to open the past” (Red Dust). It is focused on the process of reconciliation, but with that comes the revisiting of painful memories. Alex must listen to Hendriks recall the time of torture during this trial and silently relive the horrid memories that he had otherwise tried to forget. Reconciliation is a process that requires truth, openness, and resurfaced memories to create a path of healing.
What proves to be a challenge of sharing this story is the torture that Alex and Steve went through. A film must have a balance between what they can show in terms of this injustice and what is too much for the audience. The filmmakers decided to show small scenes of the torture in few second increments. Throughout the film, they reshowed a few seconds of the same scene so that the audience would still be able to watch but also see the horrendous suffering that Alex and Steve were put through. They showed these small scenes as flashbacks and although extremely painful, the audience is shown a small glimpse of what happened during this time. Another strategy of the film involving these hard topics is the addition of another story line. Alex’s lawyer, Sara Barquant, grew up in South Africa during the apartheid and her story is developed throughout the film. Her mother lost the rights to her as a child because she allowed her daughter to be with anyone she chose. Sara had many personal experiences with the South African government and the injustice of apartheid, which shows us the spread of events that occurred. We are also given another perspective from a different lens, which spreads out the extreme suffering shown throughout.
Objects have an incredible impact for those involved in the TRC. Some objects that were used for the torture of Alex and Steve are brought as evidence. Having these objects present sets Alex off, with multiple flashbacks of what they were used for. On the other hand, Alex remembers a list of names in a box that they had hidden so long ago. Alex finds this box and brings it back to the commission. The commission was moved to the barn where Steve and Alex were kept, making this much more real for the judges, lawyers, audience, etc. They were able to stand in the exact place where this horrendous injustice occurred, spilling out emotions from all and harsh memories for Alex. In addition to this, the police search for the buried body of Alex’s friend, Steve, and they find him improperly buried near the barn. Moving the location to the scene of the injustice is a way that makes this more than a story; it shows the reality of the situation. The barn, Steve’s body and the objects brought to the court are tangible, painful memories that bring the agony of memory but the start of justice to those involved.
On Red Dust:
The purpose of reconciliation is to heal the wounds caused by trauma, but these incidents show otherwise. They depict the failure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring about reconciliation and healing, even though it was able to prevent civil war. In fact, these scenes prove that in the quest for reconciliation and justice, there will be casualties and pain. The pain is present in the many tears, scars, and physical sicknesses that plague the various black people throughout the film.
At the end of the film, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee acts as though Mpondo and all of the black people who had been slighted should simply move on with their lives; however, it’s not that simple. None of the black people in the film felt better about their situation or the pain they had suffered, so it doesn’t seem fair to ask them to move on with their lives.
Rachel Hong Red Dust
When a historic event is commemorated in film, often times what viewers receive is a recapitulation of the darkest moments of struggle. Western audiences love a film about war; gory conflict always seems to sell well. Sometimes though, it seems fixating on the most brutal moments of history can actually take away their potency. By only viewing horrific moments in narratives dedicated solely to them specifically, an audience is given half the horror, which can be reduced to macabre spectacle. To give true justice to a horrific moment in history, providing a narrative from some time later can show the lasting impacts and significance of the events. A narrative relating how tragedy is remembered and reconciled might offer a more powerful retelling. In the film Red Dust, the travesties of Apartheid are laid out graphically on screen, but from the perspective of several years later, during South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.
Red Dust follows Sara Barcant, a lawyer returning home to South Africa from her new life in New York, as she represents political figure Alex Mpondo in a Reconciliation hearing. Throughout the trial, Alex is forced to relive his twenty-eight days of torture during Apartheid, since the whole truth must be shared for any amnesty can be granted. Rather than showing one scene in the film portraying Alex’s torture in full, the filmmakers chose to use incredibly brief flashbacks, interrupting scenes of the trial, or Alex swimming in the local pool in between the hours at court. The rest of his life portrayed in this film moves at a moderately low pace; the hues of shots are earthy, yellow, green, blue. In the brief shocking instances of torture he endured, revealed to the audience through flashing splices, everything is violently fast, dark, and almost exclusired, violently fast. Then, as suddenly as the shot begins, it ends, and we are back in the present, sitting at a table on an auditorium stage or swimming laps with Alex.
The use of quick, saturated flashbacks to reveal the trauma Alex underwent during Apartheid works on several levels to reveal the true horror and lasting scarring South Africa’s racial conflicts on individuals such as Alex. If viewers were forced to witness his torture and last moments with Steven all in one extensive shot, it could become detrimental to the message of the film in one of two ways: either the scene would be well done and far too traumatic to be seen all at once, or it would become a gory, spectacle of a scene that would steal the attention away from the rest of the film. By cutting small flashbacks into the rest of the film, the editing provides looks into the past that are painful, but bearable for the audience, so they do not turn away or miss any of the story being presented. The flashbacks also illustrate the true horror of Apartheid as we look at it from a historic lens—for those who lived through it, it has not ended. Memories of the trauma inflicted during this time of chaos, hatred, and violence, find their way into everyday life, interrupting healing and growth. The brief reliving of past torture, both for the character Alex and the editing choices of the film, proves to be a much more powerful and realistic depiction of the trauma and grief historic travesties such as Apartheid cause.
Dear White People: A Satirical Modern Exposé of a Classic American Issue
The satirical and stylistically polished film Dear White People, released in 2014, takes the issue of contemporary American racism and thrusts it into the spotlight with wit and honesty. With a plot immersed in both dramatic relationships and academic struggles, as well as the embedded prejudices experienced by Ivy League students at fictional Winchester University, this film critiques antiquated responses to ever-present racism in our nation’s most prestigious academic establishments. The film creates a texturally diverse experience for viewers, juxtaposing raucous parties to donor fundraisers, student experiences to that of the campus’s administration, and modern visuals with classical western music. Justin Simian, screenwriter and director, focused his film on the spread of ideas through modern media and technology, helping viewers to understand the struggle for equitable treatment of races is a current issue. His inclusion of classical music tells the audience they are experiencing a struggle as old as our nation’s most prestigious institutions and deeply imbedded in western culture.
A large topic addressed by Dear White People is how bigotry and civil rights advocacy takes shape in the present. With the advent of the internet, the creation of mobile devices, and, in this previous decade, the explosion of social media, a new form of activism has been created. Dear White People showcases modern forms of communication, with both their benefits and potential downfalls. Samantha White, a film production major and outspoken advocate for the black community, hosts a radio show, publishes her own booklet entitled Ebony and Ivy, and infiltrates a social media page to create a thought provoking disaster of a party. CoCo, another student at Winchester, updates her YouTube channel with blog posts about her experiences as a black woman, in hopes of impressing a reality TV producer. Whenever text messages are sent or received by protagonists in the film, they appear on screen as a little window, so the audience can read the messages for themselves. This is a film immersed in imagery of the 21st century information age. The inclusion and emphasis of modern communication makes it clear to the audience that the issues faced by the black students in this film are ones happening right now. The prejudices, bigotry, and awkward-ness of being “a black face in a white place” is something occurring right this second. But is it a new issue? Are these social struggles being created and heightened by millennials armed with new media? Simian answers this question sweetly and simply by making the audience listen.
The score of Dear White People is, in a word, diverse. Songs by contemporary Black artists mingle with classical music by western composers. One can’t help but be haunted by the orchestral pieces mixed into scenes of the film, overlapping moments of awkward conversation and attempts at reconciling the black and white students and faculty on campus. The inclusion western composers tells us that Simian believes that the racism and social injustice being addressed presently in the digital age is nothing new; it is deeply embedded, and part of our classical education in the west. While new life is being breathed into civil rights as of late, the injustices are traditional and institutionally upheld, and all those engaging in modern forms of activism are the latest chapter of a classic drama. Let us hope that there will be more Sam White’s in the future to make our 21st century protests bring lasting change.