Tyler James Williams might be the breakout star of Dear White People but at first you may not recognize him as the kid from Everybody Hates Chris. The satiric movie, also starring Tessa Thompson (Veronica Mars, For Colored Girls) takes place at a predominantly white university, the fictional Winchester, where various Black and white students are struggling with issues of racial identity in the so-called ‘post-racial’ America.
Williams, now 22, says that the movie reflects issues that his generation is dealing with.
“That’s what spoke to me when I read it,” Williams told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “The script was talking about what me and my friends talk about. What does it mean to be Black nowadays? It’s changed so much and I feel like there a lot of different version of the Black 20-something. We can put Chief Keef and Obama in the same room and yes, they’re both the Black experience and there’s so many in-betweens as well. And that’s what this movie touches on. I feel like I’m in between and that’s what we’re not really talking about.”
Dear White People, written and directed by Justin Simien, was an organic project that was financed by those who believed in it. A Indiegogo campaign helped Simien raise $40,000to make the movie after he put together a trailer and promoted it via social before it was even completed. By the time it hit Sundance, it had come away with both a Special Jury Award as well as a distribution deal with Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate. Dear White People is in limited release starting on Friday, then in national release on October 24th.
Williams, who plays gay misfit Lionel, which is somewhat based on Simien’s own college experience, says there are a few things he’d like white people to know even before they see the movie, which excoriates some stereotypes while showing racial identity is not always a simple thing, no matter where you may fit on the Blackness spectrum.
“We’re not the extreme. There are those, yes, but there are some of us in the middle that are just regular people who like regular thinks to drink and eat and just have a good time,” says Williams.
But even for a celebrity like Williams, racism is a daily reality. He relates a recent incident where he was profiled while shopping with friends at a high-end store and says the employees panicked when he and his friends ‘split up’ to look at different things.
He hopes people will walk away with the main message exemplified by Dear White People.
“We’re not all the same. You’ll never fully understand our experience and we’ll never going to understand yours. The fact that we can sit here and say that we don’t get it is what brings us together. That’s where the commonality is.”