Dear White People Receives Indiewire’s First Ever “Project of the Year”

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I was the only white girl at the table, but I remember thinking; “its fine these are my friends, we have tons of stuff in common” as the mid-90’s shirt sensation frolicked through my mind: “Love See No Color.” Then Catherine ordered cheese bread.

“Twelve dollars for cheese bread, I am not paying that much for cheese bread! Get your manager!”

“Mam, I apologize, but cheese bread was not on the menu, we made it especially for you and this is a reasonable price.”

“How can you not have cheese bread on the menu, this is an Italian restaurant! Cheese bread should not be this much.  All you did was put some cheese on some bread.”  

I had to concentrate on my face it had to remain expressionless despite the bulging eye’s I wanted to direct to the poor waiter.  I could feel the tension at the table but I didn’t dare look at anyone.  Once Reva and I left our co-workers Catherine and Denise behind at the 6 train, Reva grabbed my shoulders and gasped, “Michelle, just like the Holocaust never again!”

I gasped with inappropriate laughter as Reva began to go on a tangent.

“It’s women like her who make black people look bad. Michelle she is the reason I have trouble going out to eat. She didn’t tip, she was rude, it’s hard enough for black people to get good service.  Did you see that she was on her phone the whole night? She was calling the better business bureau to report the restaurant.”

“Wait? What? No!”

“Never again Michelle. Never again are we going out to dinner with her.”

If some white dude were to order cheese bread, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was not on the menu and then become upset when he didn’t like the price, this behavior would probably not affect me or fulfill any type of negative stereotype for white people.  Of course this is not the case for my friend Reva.  She has to be careful when she orders cheese bread.   Having grown up in Eugene, Oregon I never really experienced racism first hand and its interesting how an incident over the price of cheese bread at a shitty Italian restaurant in Little Italy has led me to this place.  Comedy, farce, sarcasm leads us to the places tragedy has a hard time capturing.    

When Reva asked me to see “Dear White People,” I wanted to pass, at the height of Eric Garner and Ferguson, stepping away from reality seemed like a healthy decision.  Once the tone of the film had been established and the lines: “We live in a world where there’s a Big Momma’s House THREE,” were uttered by the films protagonist Sam White, I was in deep.  The characters were speaking my language. 

The films director, Justin Simien, has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be called the next Spike Lee, which should be noted as his style is completely different.  Unlike Lee, Simien doesn’t get mad he gets clever.  From  “Dr. Strangelove” to “Full Metal Jacket,” sarcasm has a way of telling it like it is without saying a word.  Simien went to Chapman University, an uber white, driving daddy’s hand-me-down benz nightmare (I transferred to the school from New York City and wanted to leave the day I stepped on campus).  In his film Simien masterfully captures race relations in a Chapman-esque school with no real IQ, despite its pseudo Ivy League tendencies.

As Simien recently told Indiewire who deemed the film “Project of the Year,” he anticipated that no one would want to see this film and took matters into his own hands:

“Dear White People,” came after I decided to take full responsibility for getting the movie made. It wasn’t a situation where if we don’t get crowdfunding we’re screwed, we’re devastated. It wasn’t that. It was, “you know what? We believe in this. This is going to get made hook or by crook.”

When most of us get our tax refund check we buy some new Uggs or payoff our credit card (or at least intend to), but Simien decided to make a trailer instead.  He knew the only way the film would get attention was through social media and instead of “coming soon,” “coming maybe” would be a good hook.  Despite mulling over taking meetings and finding a lawyer to get the film incorporated, Simien took his trailer and idea to Indiegogo, a crowdsourcing website where, unlike Kickstarter, participants are able to hold on to the money funded to their projects. 

Within three days on the site Simein surpassed his goal of $25,000 and even after the site’s deadline for the film passed, he continued rake in cash.  The site went further than just assisting Simien with his budget, it also propelled a publicity campaign at the same time, allowing influential investors to become involved.  As Simien recently told Paula Bernstein:

“There were practical uses for the money, but really what it did was it became a story in and of itself. We had what we called “the union” of people dedicated to getting the movie made. And that paid off hundreds of times over in this process. We were able to walk into Sundance with 25,000 fans, and walk out of Sundance with 100,000 fans.”

So. Filmmakers. Now that your five year-old cousin could “technically” make a film, get it crowd sourced and show it at a festival (sure the only main character would be his dog Pepper) this means filmmakers have to be more decisive than ever.  From ones tax rebate check to those clothes you have still been meaning to take to Buffalo Exchange, whatever works, whatever small measurement of grace, must be utilized.  But make no mistake talent is the main ingredient and Simien has truckloads of it.     

@MeMontgom 

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