Dear Colorism.

Let me start this off by saying that I was a die-hard fan for Dear White People before it was officially released in theatres. Last year, I was one of the thousands reblogging links on Tumblr to the Indiegogo campaign to raise enough money for the creation of the movie. I recall having several conversations with my friends about how revolutionary this movie could potentially be, and even began drafting an aggressive email to my school about the need for a screening at our local theatre (luckily, the student body demand came before mine did). This movie was everything I wanted before I had even seen it, and the public outcry that ran the gamut from angry Rotten Tomato articles to thinkpieces on how movies like this perpetuate racism all brought a strange sense of satisfaction to me: this was exactly why we needed the movie.

On Sunday night, my friends and I piled into the university’s campus theatre for a free screening of the film, courtesy of my school’s incredible Center for Social Justice and LGBTQ Communities. As we glanced around the room, each of us taking a mental or verbal tally of the number of non-POC folks in the room (4/30, how impressive…), I had my first real sobering moment about the film: this film could not be counted on as a tool of instruction on microaggressions and racist attitudes for white people if they were not in the room to receive it. This film was less of a play-by-play of understanding how not to be racist for white folks, and more of a validation of our own experiences of racism as Black folks. I sat in the theatre confused: did it mean more to me to see my own life experiences reflected on the screen, or did I want a white audience present to fully grasp how harmful these life experiences were? The movieviewing experience became even more sobering by the fact that the satirical representations of racism still made me very uncomfortable. When Lionel sat as his afro was groped and prodded at, I shared a physical reaction of discomfort with my friends sitting to the left and right of me, all of us having been victims of Investigative White Hand-In-Hair Syndrome. This is the best way I can describe my experience with the movie. I felt my vulnerability as a Black woman who has experienced racism being prodded and picked at, for the sake of granting viewers a glimpse of the realities of racism. This experience of being triggered is one I didn’t anticipate, and honestly overlooked because I was so concerned with a white audience gaining an understanding from the film.

Triggering aside, I thought the film did a great job bringing to light the experience of being Black at a predominantly white university. The characters were complex and great representations of intersectional identities in a white space. As much as I appreciated the obvious nod to racism in a university setting, I left the theatre unsatisfied, and in the same predicament I often find myself in after watching films; the dark-skinned women in the film were unfavorable characters. Coco, one of the main characters in the film, spent much of it trying to appeal to the white crowd at her university by distinguishing herself from the other Blacks and supported the African-American theme party thrown by white students at her school for the sake of gaining fame. Although internalized racism is absolutely present in the Black community and worth examining, I believe that the film’s writers and producers missed a prime opportunity to bring to light racism’s partner-in-crime: colorism. Sam, the film’s vibrant campus organizer is a multiracial, light-skinned woman who struggles with her own personal identity but still finds herself with a happy ending at the end of the film, while Coco remains heartbroken after a failed romantic pursuit. Sam is constantly supported throughout the film, while Coco is isolated because of her desire for approval from the white community. Even Sam’s darkskin female friend who is given a few lines throughout the movie can almost always be found in the background and to the side of Sam, providing support and remaining nameless for the sake of her friend’s cause. Part of me believes that I expected too much from this film, but I think its fair for me to say that this film’s heavy focus on the Black-white dichotomy left little room for it to examine itself and other film’s like it that are fully equipped with opportunities to give visibility to dark Black women but choose not to. There was something discomforting about the ease at which Sam could remove her headscarf, release her natural loose curls, and be accepted by all while Coco struggled with her image until the end. The film could very well be making commentary on the invisibility of dark Black women, but leads me to question how necessary it is to depict reality if there are no active steps towards changing it. Can I fault the film for being such a clear representation of the struggle of dark Black women, or am I justified in being upset at this missed opportunity to portray dark Black women in a more positive light? My questions remain unanswered, but open.

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