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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Open letter to the Galway International Arts Festival from Boycott the Human Zoo Campaign

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Open Letter to the Galway International Arts Festival from Boycott the Human Zoo Campaign 



14th July 2015



John Crumlish, CEO, Paul Fahy, Artistic Director
Galway International Arts Festival
Administration Office
Black Box Theatre
1 Courthouse Square
Duke Road
Galway
Republic of Ireland


Dear Mr Crumlish and Mr Fahy

We the undersigned are writing to you regarding your inclusion of the racist installation 'Exhibit B'in the 2015 Galway International Arts Festival.

As the Boycott Human Zoo Campaign; a coalition of anti -racist, Black community organisations, arts organisations and trade unions, we want to be clear that Exhibit B is not simply a ‘controversial’ art installation; it is an installation which features racism both in its content and in the process by which it has come to be put into the public domain.

As the UK campaign group Boycott the Human Zoo and associated organisations, we engaged in extensive public consultation and dialogue with people across communities in the UK and internationally. The overriding opinion was that the performance installation ‘Exhibit B’ is racist and immensely offensive and the curator Brett Bailey's alleged ‘educational’ message is lost to the point where it is a parody of itself and manifests the racism it claims to challenge. In addition, Mr Bailey's evident lack of understanding of the subject matter, and his disconnect from the social and political climate, results in distress, anxiety, tensions and public protest as seen in the increasing global voice - which continues to increase exponentially - requesting that the work be decommissioned and removed from programming in their towns and cities globally.

The recent protest events seen in the UK, Paris, Amsterdam and Brazil are part of a global response to the constant and continued de-humanisation of Black and migrant communities across the world.  After consideration, the city of Toronto refused to allow the exhibition to take place there due to the negative impact and offence it would cause for Black communities.  It is simply not enough for the artist, commissioners and venues - all of whom are speaking from a position of white privilege and none who are qualified in determining what is and is not racist - to state ‘it is not racist’; and that their word is the final word. A consortium of experts in racism, prejudice, discrimination and inequality from across the world have on multiple occasions unpacked and explained the ideology and methodology of racism that is prevalent in the process and accompanying actions of both the artist and the commissioners and hosting venues, and why the piece and the commissioning process are both examples of how racism manifests in the 21st Century under the framework of inherited draconian and archaic decision making that replicates and reinforces its colonial origin.

Hosting this installation and ignoring the vast surge of public opposition suggests that whereby politicians, organisations, institutions and select individuals can set the parameters of what is acceptable and accessible or not, we – the voice of the people, and particularly the voice of Black  people and communities– have no say. Our voice is being censored whilst at the same time we are being accused of censoring art for standing up to racism. Our profound understanding of racism in both ideology and methodology is dismissed. That in and of itself  is a clear example of the systemic and institutional racism that continues to manifest in current times.

Our collective voices include those that have seen the exhibition and actors who auditioned and declined involvement as well as those that have participated. The collective voice resulted in petitions in several countries including 23,000 signatures in the UK and of 20,000 in France. in the UK the organisations that make up the Boycott Human Zoo Coalition total over a million people in membership.

Over one million people around the world are saying ‘No’ to ‘Exhibit B’ including politicians, academics, activists, community leaders, artists (writer, poets, rappers, visual artists and musicians) plus ordinary people, black and white.  Each one of us see it for what it is, highly offensive, deeply insensitive and a tool to uphold the system of white supremacy and privilege that allows this work to be projected on society, while reaffirming that the attitude of white superiority and automatic entitlement is somehow acceptable and unchallengeable and takes priority over all else.

The protests against ‘Exhibit B’ in the UK successfully related the message that this piece should not have been shown in the UK and its intended run at a London venue was cancelled. Our ongoing work clarifies why this is not about ‘censorship’ - the predictable and lazy response for supporters of ‘Exhibit B’ - it is about the disconnected and uninformed process by which this piece came to be commissioned. It is not anti-art but anti-racism.

The artists and commissioners of these kinds of offensive propaganda manifestations veiled as art are stating they wish to have equality of access to appropriate or misappropriate diversity of culture and life experience, while at the same time being completely devoid of that same said culture or life experience being any part of the initiation or fundamental decision making process. The result is a juxtaposition notion that it is somehow acceptable to have discrimination and under representation in the decision making process of the very meaning of what equality is. 

To suggest, as the artist does, that the mere existence of his piece is a form of anti-racism and initiates dialogue is an arrogant and subversive appropriation of the real work that goes on to challenge racism through honest and legitimate artistic, academic and political means and methods. ‘Exhibit B’ is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem – as can be seen through the vast protests and the subsequent treatment and depiction of the protestors.  The resulting irony of the modern-day dehumanisation, demonstration and harassment directed at those speaking out cannot be ignored.

It is incredibly naive and condescending of the artist and the supporters and funders of ‘Exhibit B’ to suggest that we somehow ‘don’t get it’. Not only do we understand on a profound level which the artist would never begin to understand; we do not know the issues by association, we do not understand the topic vicariously, we do not dip in and out at times of our own choosing and we do not engage by selective appropriation. We live with covert and overt - and all the subtle nuances of racism - and live with the consequences and legacy of historical racism daily.

This piece is a propaganda vehicle for the artist as we have observed though our close inspection and observation over the past year. The inconsistencies and contradictions in the artist’s explanation, justification and narrative of his work are evident to anyone who took the time to read the articles and social media posts by Brett Bailey. The artist revealed he neither understands the subject matter with which he is using as his artistic playground, nor the results of his folly.

The extremely misleading literature contained on the artist’s website provides statistics relating to where the installation has been shown and favourable reports, it does not however refer to the overwhelmingly larger number of people that have opposed its residency in their towns, cities and countries.

It is profoundly disturbing to see the sheer level of physical force used against Black people who speak out against ‘Exhibit B’. That the army was brought in and the protesters were tear gassed and pepper sprayed for standing up and exercising their right to protest in Paris, is directly connected to a resurgence of the civil rights movement reminiscent of the 1950’s that we see across America and around the globe.

Are the civil rights activism of the past decades and centuries to be forgotten so readily? Does the Galway International Arts Festival think this crude regression is the image the Republic of Ireland and the people of Galway want to send as a message as to how it views Black and migrant people?

Is one man’s quest to insult and offend, whether inadvertently or unintentionally or otherwise, of more importance than those who live in a country, where they are now revisiting the oppression and subjugation of the past that manifests in nuanced neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism, which condescends us with; “this is good for you”, “you misunderstand”, “you are uneducated” and “we know best”? An artist who reinforces racial stereotypes and actively practises racial profiling calling the intelligent campaign of opposition to his work an “angry violent mob” and dehumanising the protesters and feeding the stereotype of Black people in mainstream media. All this despite there being peaceful protest with no record of violent incidents.

It is essential to understand that the finance and resources available to the artist, producers and commissioners of ‘Exhibit B’ create a luxury of time and opportunity by which to voice their views. This luxury of time, finance and opportunity are not afforded to those who call for its decommission. That in itself reveals the inequality at play here and the systemic construct of white privilege that frames this matter. It is by no coincidence that there was an extraordinary imbalance of available resource between the campaign initiated by an African-Caribbean-British mother from Birmingham who was incensed enough by the racism of ‘Exhibit B’ to start an online petition and The Barbican and it’s all white senior management and board of governors who nonchalantly signed-off the commission without any consultation with, or understanding of, the communities who feature within this installation, a community who would ultimately pay the price of the racist installation.

The road to equality is not through the production of ‘Exhibit B’ and art that reinforces racist stereotypes, it is in the ceasing of commissioning of such works and a change in the procedures and processes by which they come to be commissioned and access to opportunities for black artists.

It is one thing to support art and freedom of expression, but it is something entirely different to support racism and propaganda guised as ‘art’- the publicity of which only serves to benefit one individual; the artist - who will ultimately be reaping the promotional and economic benefits long after the alleged installation ‘message’ is forgotten.


It is for all these reasons that we call on Galway International Arts Festival to decommission 'Exhibit B' from its program. 

As you have programmed 'Exhibit B' as part of your Galway International Arts Festival, we kindly request that you furnish us with all the details of your consultation process and those you engaged with - particularly from Black communities - in order to obtain your decision to proceed with this commission. It is of significance  that Galway International Arts Festival receives 28% of finances from public sector grants - which brings with it further requirement for transparency and responsibility.

There is a real opportunity for art institutions and politicians, who themselves are significantly lacking in diversity, to understand how we stop the cycle of inequality, division and discrimination and work together on the solution. The decommissioning of ‘Exhibit B’ is a start.




Yours Sincerely,

Sara Myers, Founder of Boycott the Human Zoo
Zita Holbourne, National Co-Chair Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK & PCS Union NEC, Poet, Visual Artist & Curator
Lee Jasper, National Co-Chair BARAC UK  & Movement Against Xenophobia Steering Group
John Mullen, Collectif contre Exhibit B, France
Marcos Ferreira, Contra Exhibit B, Brasil
Donna Guthrie, BARAC Women's Officer & UCU staff Unite Branch Executive Committee
Paul Richards, Creative and Educational Director of BrazenBunch & UpRise
Rosemary C Adaser, Founder Member, Mixed Race Irish
Sharon Murphy, Black Irish & Singer, Songwriter 
Ngoma Bishop, Author, Arts Campaigner, & Chief Officer of BEMA
Austin Harney, Chair Campaign for the Rights for the Irish Communities (CRAIC) & SERTUC Race Relations Committee Secretary
Zena Edwards, Spoken Word Artist & Creative and Educational Director
Adrienne Frye, British Black List 


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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

JOINT BARAC & TNBFC PRESS RELEASE; Victory in the Dear White People Campaign

JOINT BARAC & TNBFC PRESS RELEASE; Victory in the Dear White People Campaign            Thursday 9th July 2015 

On Wednesday 8th of July the BFI confirmed that they will be granting lottery funding for the wider distribution of the film Dear White People in UK cinemas. This decision follows a month long joint campaign by Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK and The New Black Film Collective to challenge the institutional racism in the UK film industry at large.

Campaign actions included a screening of Dear White People in the Houses of Parliament, hosted by John McDonnell MP with a post film discussion on the issue of institutional racism in the film industry and a Change.org petition signed by over 1000 people including politicians, trade union and community leaders and celebrities.

The initial refusal of the BFI to grant lottery funding for the distribution of the film in cinemas without fully exploring all avenues for release and the refusal of major art house cinema chains to screen it could have led to the film going straight to DVD in the UK despite it being a Box Office success in the USA and an award winning film.

BARAC UK & TNBFC are pleased that the BFI, be it belatedly, agreed to work in partnership with TNBFC to find a solution for Dear White People and going forward to discuss measures to improve distribution and audience development for black film in the future.

National Co-Chair of BARAC UK Zita Holbourne said;

‘I am happy that BARAC was able to work jointly with TNBFC to achieve this victory, but the institutional racism that exists in the arts and culture sector including the film industry must be challenged going forward.  Black and migrant communities have made a tremendous contribution to the arts in the UK and the disproportionate impact of austerity means that the racism in the sector is amplified.  Going forward the BFI must ensure that their decision making bodies reflect the communities they are supposed to serve, that they consider the equality impact of their actions and equality proof their policies and processes.  It is simply unacceptable in 2015 that the only films featuring black characters or about our story on the big screen see us whipped, chained or ridiculed or that the token black character in the film is the first to die.’

Director of TNBFC, Priscilla Igwe said;

'I am delighted that through the intervention of Ben Roberts, Director of Film at the BFI, a way has been found to widen the release of Dear White People, a film that could not be more relevant in light of recent events and it bodes well for the vital investment required for contemporary Black cinema to be received in this country. We would like to thank BARAC and the support of British audiences for recognising that it is time for a change and getting behind this film.'

The campaign was always about more than just Dear White People and about the repeated rejection of films written, directed and produced by black people and about black people.  Our stories just like all stories deserve to be told, it is only by sharing our experiences that we break down barriers and as we experiencing deepening racism, film is a powerful medium for initiating debate about the issues of race and racism. It is not enough for institutions to say they are for race equality, they must put this into practice and demonstrate a real commitment to ensure that bias conscious or unconscious plays no part in their decision making, that  so called ‘black films’ are not pigeon holed or ghettoised and that they reach wider audiences.  Therefore we see this victory not as the end of a campaign but the start.

The Dear White People Premiere and After Party took place on Wednesday 8th July at the Prince Charles Cinema and Ruby Blue in Leicester Square, London respectively.  Dear White People is on general theatrical release from 10th of July
Ends
Contact:
Zita Holbourne, BARAC UK    Tel. 07711 861660   Email barac.info@gmail.com
Priscilla Igwe, TNBFC    Tel. 07860613246   Email   info@tnbfc.co.uk

BARAC UK is a national campaign with regional structures against racism and injustice and the disproportionate impact of cuts on black workers, service users and communities and deprived communities.

TNBFC is network of film exhibitors, educators and programmers spread across the regions in the UK. As part of their range of services, they host screenings that matter to the local community featuring international and domestic films of black representation and are one of only two black film distributors in the UK.




Sunday, 28 June 2015

Dear White People goes to Parliament; racism in the arts & culture sector must be challenged

BARAC UK are working with The New Black Film Collective (TNBFC)  campaigning against institutional racism in the film industry.



In the past months we have supported and participated in a wide range of campaigns against institutional racism in the arts and culture sector and the disproportionate impact of austerity on the sector. 




The BFI has refused lottery funding to distribute the film Dear White People in the UK even though by their own admission it meets their criteria and cinemas have been reluctant to screen it, especially outside of London with no cinemas agreeing a standard 7 day run. 

This week the BBC interviewed Director of TNBFC, Priscilla Igwe together with a spokesperson from the BFI  who was unable to explain their rejection of the film, you can listen here.

We can only conclude in the absence of any other explanation offered by the BFI or those cinema chains rejecting it that institutional racism lies at the heart of their decision. 

TNBFC has now lodged an appeal against the BFI decision, we challenge them to do the right thing and not only apologise for their blatant attempt to ghettoise the film as only suitable for black audiences but to grant lottery funding for its distribution. 

Racism is deepening every day and the film offers an opportunity to initiate dialogue about some of the issues explored in it. Whilst the film  is set in a USA university,  highly racist and offensive 'blacking up' is something that has taken place in universities in the UK as recently as this year; Stirling University Students Black Up and  York University students black up for fancy dress prank. These types of horrific events and the discrimination and isolation that black students face in the UK, in addition to the disproportionate impact of austerity on black students, mean that the work of the NUS Black Students Campaign is essential. 



The nine  people who were  murdered in Charleston

Black deaths at the hands of the State is a concern both in the USA and in the UK, since BARAC was formed in 2010 we have supported a number of family justice campaigns, a week ago we saw the horrific mass murder of worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, yet the media both in the USA and the UK have been reluctant to call it out for what it is, a terrorist attack by a racist supremacist  even though the murderer himself declared his racist intent. The church, one of the oldest black churches in the USA  was burned down in 1822 and 35 people were hanged  in response to a slave rebellion. 



Bree Newsome has now been arrested for taking down the flag in the USA #FreeBree



A debate has followed in recent days about the permanent removal of the Confederate flag in the US because of its historic connection to  racism and the fact that photos were found of the killer posing with the flag.  



BARAC team at Glastonbury led by BARAC Women's Officer, far right, Donna Guthrie

Last week BARAC sent an all black woman team of volunteers to work at Glastonbury Festival but they had not anticipated yet another campaign against racism in arts and culture whilst there. After only one day at the renowned music  festival, they were shocked to discover  a Confederate flag on display.  They  staged a picket outside the staffing area the flag was situated in order to force its removal by the festival organisers but we believe that questions must be asked as to the intent of those bringing the flag to the festival in the wake of such a brutal racist massacre associated with the Confederate flag and will be writing to Glastonbury about this. 


Confederate Flag found at Glastonbury 
Racism is very real and its effects are deep and harmful.  Black Lives Matter and It is time that the BFI puts in place robust equality monitoring and equality proofing systems, ensuring that those who make the decisions are representative of the communities and diverse population that  they are supposed to serve. if the BFI really believe that a film entitled Dear White People which explores race and racism is only for black people to view, then  are they suggesting that the racism experienced by black people is a problem for black people to address and not the perpetrators?

How do young black film makers in the UK stand a chance of getting a platform for their work with attitudes like this from the BFI?  

As the general release date is only a couple of weeks ago we want to present the campaign petition to the BFI - please help us to build the petition by signing and sharing widely here.

Well known people who have signed the petition include Clive Lewis MP, Assistant General Secretary of Unison, Roger McKenzie, actresses Dona Croll and Judith Jacob and broadcasters Rosemary Laryea and Jasmine Dotiwala. 

Photo by: T Cobham, all rights reserved 


We are grateful to John McDonnell MP for hosting a screening and post-film discussion in the Houses of Parliament about how we challenge institutional racism in the film industry which took place on June 24th.  Speakers included  Co-Chair of BARAC UK Zita Holbourne and Director of TNBFC, Priscilla Igwe. Jeremy Corbyn MP also took time out of his busy schedule to attend and give support.  Those in attendance committed to support the campaign and bring together the various campaigns against race discrimination in the arts and culture sector in joint campaigning activities. 

Left to right, Priscilla Igwe, Zita Holbourne, John McDonnell MP     Photo by : T Cobham, all rights reserved 


John McDonnell MP talked about film being a powerful medium for challenging negative views, Priscilla Igwe talked about the challenges she has faced trying to get the film distributed and her commitment to doing so and Zita Holbourne talked about the link between austerity and cuts and the deepening institutional racism in the film and wider arts sector. 

Zita Holbourne & Jeremy Corbyn MP      Photo by T Cobham, all rights reserved 


In the same week the film was screened as part of the Images of Black Women Film Festival at the Tricycle in Kilburn, London, followed by  a post film Q&A with Rosemary Laryea and Zita Holbourne. The film received a very positive response from the audience who also endorsed the campaign to get it screened and challenge the institutional racism in the industry.

Zita Holbourne & Rosemary Laryea


Links to the campaign media, social networking, forthcoming screenings and events can be accessed via the website www.dearwhitepeoplemovie.co.uk.  #dearwhitepeopleuk 

Dear White People cast



Zita Holbourne; National Co-Chair BARAC UK 







Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Press Release: Dear White People

PRESS RELEASE
10th June 2015
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK & The New Black Film Collective
Screen ‘Dear White People’ in UK cinemas

‘Dear White People' is an award winning USA produced satirical comedy-drama film set on a University campus, directed and written by Justin Simien. The film won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Justin Simien has been named in Variety magazine's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and The New Black Film Collective have launched a campaign to get the film screened in cinemas.
The film is due for general theatrical release in the UK from July 10th but so far very few cinemas have agreed to screen the film with no cinemas agreeing to standard full 7 day run.
The BFI has refused lottery funding to the New Black Film Collective (one of only two black film distribution companies in the UK), which would have supported the distribution of the film with no justifiable reasons given and a major independent art-house cinema chain has turned it down even though they stated that they like the film.
The response to 'Dear White People' by the UK film industry is part of a wider problem of institutional racism in the industry, whereby films featuring black characters, exploring race and identity and / or made by black producers / directors  are repeatedly rejected for theatrical release, meaning that they go straight to DVD  / Blue Ray release unless they portray black people in negative stereotypical roles or there is a tokenistic response of one-off screenings linked to cultural events such as Black History Month with very limited or no screenings outside of London.
'Dear White People' and other intelligent films exploring the issues of race, racism, identity and intersectionality should be available for mainstream and diverse audiences to view and enjoy and are important in creating dialogue about the issues and in tackling racism.  Set on a USA university campus, the film reflects the experiences of black students in universities here in the UK:   a study carried out by the National Union of Students found that one in six black students in UK universities had experienced racism in their institution, a third felt their educational environment left them unable to bring their minority perspective to lectures and tutorials, and 7% openly labelled their learning environment as "racist".
Charmaine Simpson, Chair of The New Black Film Collective said:
 ‘We refuse to become Oliver Twist begging ‘please sir can we have some more’ but rather emulate Lenny Henry and Greg Dyke in calling out the bastions of British culture for being ‘hideously white’.  We must not let them allow diversity to be a talking shop or a box to tick – instead put their lottery money where their mouth is instead of hiding behind fake excuses that are used to preserve the status quo. There has to be a spotlight put on white privilege and black disadvantage – this sense of entitlement and old boys network must be brought crashing down. Dear White People is addressed to you – Britain, so let this be a love letter for change’.

Zita Holbourne, Co-Chair of BARAC UK said:
‘Institutional racism in the film and wider arts & culture industries must be challenged, austerity and cuts are impacted disproportionately on young black people wishing to enter the industry as well as access for black communities. It is simply unacceptable to pigeonhole a film as suitable only for black audiences because it is directed by a black man and addresses the issues of identity and race and then reject it on that basis.  The film is important in exploring issues of racism which is a responsibility of all, not just those on the receiving end but ultimately the film is a piece of art and art deserves to be enjoyed by everyone’.
A petition started four days ago on change.org has already gained hundreds of signatures: https://www.change.org/p/uk-cinemas-bfi-screen-dear-white-people-in-cinemas-across-the-uk and a screening of the film is due to take place in Parliament together with a discussion on the issue of institutional racism in the industry as part of the campaign.
Supporters are encouraged to organise their own screenings and to book tickets to the UK Premiere taking place at Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square in July.
www.ourscreen.com/film/Dear-White-People

Ends

Contact:
Tel. 07860613246
Twitter: @tnbfc     @baracuk
#DearWhitePeopleUK
           http://www.tnbfc.co.uk/

 Reviews & Synopsis

Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 92% saying;

'Dear White People adds a welcome new voice to cinema's oft-neglected discussion of race, tackling its timely themes with intelligence, honesty, and gratifyingly sharp wit.'

The New York Times said of it;

'Everyone should see this movie, and everyone will see it a little differently. Maybe you will think it goes too far, or not far enough. Since I happen to belong to the group to which it is explicitly addressed, a direct response seems warranted. Dear “Dear White People”: Got your message. Keep in touch.'

Variety said:

'“Dear White People” nonetheless provokes admiration for having bothered to ask some of the hard questions without pretending to know any of the answers. It also works as a fine showcase for its actors: Fleshing out characters that could have been little more than one-note mouthpieces, Williams, Thompson, Parris and Bell all make strong, distinctive impressions, with Thompson perhaps the standout as the film’s sharpest and most enigmatic figure.'

We call on cinema chains across the UK to screen 'Dear White People' when it is released in July and to consider screening it for 7 day runs or more and for the BFI to reverse its decision not to provide lottery funding for the distribution of the film. It is important that they are held to account on their commitment and promises around diversity.

Film Synopsis:

Sam White is a mixed race film production major at Winchester University, a prestigious and predominantly white school. With her sharp tongued and witty radio show Dear White People and her self-published book, Ebony and Ivy, Sam causes a stir among the administration and student body alike, criticising white people and the racist transgressions at Winchester.


When Sam wins the election for head of house of Armstrong/Parker, the all black house on campus, tensions rise. In winning the election, she beats her ex-boyfriend Troy Fairbanks, the son of the school's dean. Troy harbours dreams of being a comedic writer rather than a lawyer, but his father prefers that he not give white people a chance to profile him, and will accept nothing less than his best. Coco has an issue with Sam because the reality TV producer she is trying to win over would rather do a show on the witty light-skinned black girl than her. Lionel Higgins, a black gay student, gets a chance at finally finding his place at Winchester by being recruited by the school's most prestigious student paper to write a piece on Sam and the black experience at Winchester. When Kurt, a white student and son of the school's president, and his club come up with a blackface theme for their annual party in response to Sam's outspoken show, black students appear at the party, and a confrontation ensues, leading to a brawl.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Dear White People - Give Us Your Ears; Guest Blog by Charmaine Simpson of The New Black Film Collective

Introduction by Zita Holbourne, Co-Chair of BARAC UK 

BARAC together with the New Black Film Collective (TNBFC) have launched a new petition, calling on the UK film industry to support the screening of 'Dear White People' when it goes on general release in July.


Whether you love or loathe the film , for us at BARAC UK we are participating in this campaign as a matter of principle. Why shouldn't a film that tackles race and racism, that is written and directed by a black man, be screened in UK cinemas? Why should we only get to see films  at our cinemas where black characters are ridiculed, beaten or are the first to die? Furthermore it's a film for diverse audiences and because it explores the issues of racism experienced by black people should not be pigeonholed as a 'black film'. The reaction to Dear White People by the BFI and cinema chains is indicative of the wider racism we encounter throughout the arts  and wider society and must be challenged.  If not us then who? If not now then when? 


‘Dear White People – Give Us Your Ears!’
By
Charmaine Simpson
Chair
The New Black Film Collective

Displaying tnb_bw-filmcollective.jpg

Dear White People is not just the title of the film I am desperately trying to distribute in this country but also a case of ‘life imitating art’ as a Black person who is beseeching you not to allow another injustice to prevail where we, as a race, have been once again treated like second-class citizens. Like a fairytale, I shall start from the beginning but it is a shame that unlike a nightmare, we can’t wake up at the end knowing that this is all a dream.

Dear White People is a ground-breaking, Sundance awarding-winning debut feature from Justin Simien that a hit in the US but for some curious reason, was not picked up for theatrical distribution in the UK. Now, even though this is the first of many crimes against art that has been thrown at this title, it was a golden opportunity for The New Black Film Collective – a network of film programmers, educators and exhibitors of Black representation on screen, to finally do what we say on our ‘tin’ and that is to be a champion of cinema from the African Diaspora. It is only by literally bringing these stories to the mainstream that the dominant culture learns not to be ‘afraid of the dark’. That white people can go against the conditioning by the elite that enforces the ‘system of disadvantage based on race’ as quoted in the film by the leading lady, Sam - and realise that Black people are human too with complex, fully rounded characters instead of wanting to shoot us unarmed because you are scared of what is ‘under the hood’.


The feature is a satire based on sweeping stereotypes that challenges racial discrimination and other areas of inequality where nobody is perfect, where the ‘dirty laundry’ of the Black community is also aired and realities of homophobia, class, mixed relationships and segregation are also a collective slap in our faces. Therefore, it is paramount that we all fight for this film to screened far and wide and say Dear BFI this is not right. Like the BBC and BAFTA, you are institutions that are supposed to serve all members of society and denying this film lottery funding for its release because you think there is not enough demand from audiences, or there is not the appetite from cinemas to take it, are ‘little white lies’ to stop people from being enlightened.

We refuse to become Oliver Twist begging ‘please sir can we have some more’ but rather emulate Lenny Henry and Greg Dyke in calling out the bastions of British culture for being ‘hideously white’.  We must not let them allow diversity to be a talking shop or a box to tick – instead put their lottery money where their mouth is instead of hiding behind fake excuses that are used to preserve the status quo. We may not win the appeal to overturn your decision but if making a compliant means that you think twice about rejecting the next Black distributor that knocks on your door then it is worth it. If it means having a separate diversity team monitor the application process objectively for Black applicants, then it is worth it. If it means that we have to dig into our own pockets to fund the release of this film ourselves so it is not ‘ghettoised’, then we are certainly worth it - because it will lead to our empowerment and independence to bring our films to market and build our cinematic ‘underground railroad’.

However, it is not fair that once again we have to work that much more harder, sacrifice that much more when the BFI are continually funding flops distributed by the same white, middle-class companies that don’t even need the money. BFI cites Nymphomaniac distributed by Curzon as a successful release that they have funded yet it has it own chain of cinemas and video on demand platform. All we asked was for £30k to match fund a total spend of £60K on print & advertising. Instead they said that because we have a shortened window between the release of the film on screen and then on DVD, it is a challenge too difficult to overcome when there is traditionally a 16 week gap and also feel that they are really underwriting our campaign.  Nonetheless, Nymphomaniac, a dressed up pornographic movie by Lars Von Trier, was released the same day in the cinema and online with an 18 certificate. The BFI gave the distributor £50k of its £200K budget, which is equivalent to David Cameron claiming benefits after losing his job as prime minster. (We are still dreaming, remember?)

There has to be a spotlight put on white privilege and black disadvantage – this sense of entitlement and old boys network must be brought crashing down. We live in a global village and we are stronger for respecting difference and embracing our commonality. The shining light in all this are the independent cinemas who have taken us on and are willing to take the risk because they love the film as a piece of art and a mark of activism. Prince Charles Cinema is giving us a fighting chance by hosting our premiere, and if it does well, they will screen it over the all-important opening weekend of July 10th. Then it is our turn to vote with our feet and make a difference by turning out in numbers and buying a ticket which will mean more cinemas will open their doors to us - then it stops being about the colour of our skin and starts being about the colour of our money.

Let’s Do the Right Thing with Dear White People because although we may not have the seats in parliament that we wanted in the past election, we can still take our seats in theatres and make our voices count! Let us not predict a riot this time but a revolution of ideas, reform and policy where fairness and good practice can be guaranteed under the watchful eye of a diversity watchdog which is key as we know we are probably only one of two Black distribution companies in this country and the first to be led by Black women. Dear White People is addressed to you – Britain, so let this be a love letter for change.

#DearWhitePeopleUK

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 SIGN THE PETITION HERE

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Dear White People - Coming to a cinema near you soon - or perhaps not!


The reluctance of the UK film industry to support black produced and directed films and / or films exploring the issue of race / racism is not a new situation but behind the scenes those involved in trying to get such films screened in cinemas and prevent them going straight to DVD / Blue Ray is a thankless and often unseen task.
This is why Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK has teamed up with The New Black Film Collective to campaign for Dear White People to be screened in cinemas in July when it goes on general theatrical release in the UK. TNBFC is one of only two black run film distribution companies in the UK and the only black female distribution company. 
Following the withdrawal of lottery funding by the BFI and the withdrawal of Picture House Cinemas in showing the film we have launched a joint petition. SIGN THE PETITION HERE
Dear White People is the creation of black director and writer Justin Simien.  It explores race, racism and identity and is set on a University Campus.  If the film is being rejected because it is perceived to be for black audiences that's bad enough but the clue in the title makes clear that it is not a film aimed only at black audiences.  As a satirical comedy it is a film that can be enjoyed by everyone and the messages in the film are relevant to all. So we are asking you to please sign the petition and share widely but to also contact your local cinemas and ask them to screen it and if they refuse to ask the question why?
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Petition Letter 
'Dear White People' is an award winning USA produced satirical comedy-drama film set on a University campus, directed and written by Justin Simien. The film won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Justin Simien has been named in Variety magazine's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.
The film is due for general theatrical release in the UK from July 10thbut so far very few cinemas have agreed to screen the film with no cinemas agreeing to standard full 7 day run. 
The BFI has refused lottery funding to the New Black Film Collective (one of only two black film distribution companies in the UK), which would have supported the distribution of the film with no justifiable reasons given and a major independent arthouse cinema chain has turned it down even though they stated that they like the film.
The suggestion that the film is not mainstream enough and is only suitable for black audiences is not true at all. We believe the film is current and relevant for all audiences in the UK as is evident from the film synopsis below. 
We believe that the response to 'Dear White People' by the UK film industry is part of a wider problem of institutional racism in the industry, whereby films featuring black characters, exploring race and identity and / or made by black producers / directors  are repeatedly rejected for theatrical release, meaning that they go straight to DVD  / Blue Ray release unless they portray black people in negative stereotypical roles or there is a tokenistic response of one-off screenings linked to cultural events such as Black History Month with very limited or no screenings outside of London. 
We believe that 'Dear White People' and other intelligent films exploring the issues of race, racism, identity and intersectionality should be available for mainstream and diverse audiences to view and enjoy and are important in creating dialogue about the issues and in tackling racism.  The issues explored in the film are relevant to UK audiences, tackling racism is a responsibility of all, not just those on the receiving end.  A study carried out by the National Union of Students found that one in six black students in UK universities had experienced racism in their institution, a third felt their educational environment left them unable to bring their minority perspective to lectures and tutorials, and 7% openly labelled their learning environment as "racist".
Many linked their experiences of racism with a drop in their self-esteem, confidence, motivation and desire to continue their education, reporting that they felt marginalised and socially excluded. Worse still, we continue to hear stories of how black students are being pushed down before they've even really had a chance to get their feet off the ground.
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 92% saying;
'Dear White People adds a welcome new voice to cinema's oft-neglected discussion of race, tackling its timely themes with intelligence, honesty, and gratifyingly sharp wit.'
The New York Times said of it;
'Everyone should see this movie, and everyone will see it a little differently. Maybe you will think it goes too far, or not far enough. Since I happen to belong to the group to which it is explicitly addressed, a direct response seems warranted. Dear “Dear White People”: Got your message. Keep in touch.'
Variety said:
'“Dear White People” nonetheless provokes admiration for having bothered to ask some of the hard questions without pretending to know any of the answers. It also works as a fine showcase for its actors: Fleshing out characters that could have been little more than one-note mouthpieces, Williams, Thompson, Parris and Bell all make strong, distinctive impressions, with Thompson perhaps the standout as the film’s sharpest and most enigmatic figure.'
We call on cinema chains across the UK to screen 'Dear White People' when it is released in July and to consider screening it for 7 day runs or more and for the BFI to reverse its decision not to provide lottery funding for the distribution of the film. It is important that they are held to account on their commitment and promises around diversity. 
Film Synopsis: 
Sam White is a mixed race film production major at Winchester University, a prestigious and predominantly white school. With her sharp tongued and witty radio show Dear White People and her self-published book, Ebony and Ivy, Sam causes a stir among the administration and student body alike, criticising white people and the racist transgressions at Winchester.
When Sam wins the election for head of house of Armstrong/Parker, the all black house on campus, tensions rise. In winning the election, she beats her ex-boyfriend Troy Fairbanks, the son of the school's dean. Troy harbors dreams of being a comedic writer rather than a lawyer, but his father prefers that he not give white people a chance to profile him, and will accept nothing less than his best. Coco has an issue with Sam because the reality TV producer she is trying to win over would rather do a show on the witty light-skinned black girl than her. Lionel Higgins, a black gay student, gets a chance at finally finding his place at Winchester by being recruited by the school's most prestigious student paper to write a piece on Sam and the black experience at Winchester. When Kurt, a white student and son of the school's president, and his club come up with a blackface theme for their annual party in response to Sam's outspoken show, black students appear at the party, and a confrontation ensues, leading to a brawl.
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) UK & The New Black Film Collective 
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One way to support the campaign is to purchase a ticket for the screening of Dear White People at Prince Charles Cinema so that they can release the film during opening weekend. 

http://www.princecharlescinema.com/events/events.php?seasonanchor=dearwhitepeople

You can also get updates about screenings on the Dear White People UK Facebook page via the link below. 

#DearWhitePeopleUk 
www.facebook.com/DearWhitePeopleUK 
There will be a special preview of the film screened in the Houses of Parliament followed by a post film discussion - details to follow in due course.