New Movie Has College Media Connection: Five Thoughts on ‘Dear White People’ Trailer

The trailer for “Dear White People,” an upcoming feature film with Sundance festival recognition and a major college media connection, hit the web last week. Yes, it has earned far less buzz and fewer YouTube views than the subsequent trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey” (which has a plot that I must point out is built atop a student newspaper interview). But “Dear White People” has still garnered some press coverage and online debate.

On spec, the smart-satirical film appears to be a vehicle for an intelligent discussion about race relations in modern America — especially among the millennial generation. It centers on students at a fictional university who sport fairly strict — and seemingly somewhat funny — racial and ethnic divides and attitudes.

It also features some campus press theatrics, including a student radio show called “Dear White People” which riles up the student body and the school’s powers-that-be. And there is a separate plot involving an individual described as “only technically black” who is “recruited by the otherwise all-white student newspaper to go undercover and write about black culture.” Interesting.

First, I’m excited to see the movie when it premieres in mid-October. Second, here are my initial reactions to the trailer — purely from a college media perspective.

1) College radio is portrayed as having A LOT of power. The bold riffs of the “Dear White People” student host (including calling out white students for their racial ignorance) are shown on screen — at least in the trailer — as literally stopping students in their tracks and causing campus-wide discussions. The provocative nature of the student’s show strikes me as genuine, in line with what would be aired by an actual college station (if not the exact content then at least the edgy tone). But I admit I cannot recall the last time I came across an instance of a single student show on a terrestrial campus radio station going mega-viral or existing as the talk of campus. To that end, there’s something almost antiquated about the radio conceit. It’s 2014. Wouldn’t “Dear White People” be a viral video series, a blog or a bunch of Instagram uploads sporting images and text?

2) Is college radio piped into campus buildings anymore? The trailer strongly suggests the student’s show is being played on speakers set up inside buildings like the student center, classroom hallways and dorms. In books on college radio history that I’ve come across, there are examples of this occurring in very limited circumstances a long, long time ago. But in this PC, cover-your-butt era, I cannot imagine many administrators allowing a student station to blast its programming in real time in buildings frequented by lots of students, prospective students and staff. Devoted readers, set me straight if I’m wrong.

3) Where’s the station manager? The dean of the school is shown at one point confronting the student host of “Dear White People” at some outdoor location, telling her the show is racist. It’s not so much what he’s saying that bugs me, but simply that the conversation is occurring at all and where it takes place. In reality, a dean would almost never talk to the student in charge of a show he finds offensive. Instead, he would contact the station manager or faculty adviser to register his complaints. And if an actual meeting ever occurred, it would be a formal sit-down in his office with other people present. (See the cover-your-butt description above.)

4) Mixing student media and student government. The student host is next shown mounting a long-shot bid for student government president. I love her ambition! But I do wonder about the implications of this plot point. If she was a student newspaper columnist, a number of ethical entanglements would clearly exist. For example, would she be allowed to keep writing her column while running for office? Typically, the answer would be no. But as a college radio staffer — running a show that doesn’t appear to be journalistic — the ethics are murkier. What do you think? Is it OK to be an SG candidate and the host of a campus radio program that gets political and discusses student issues? And what if her opposing candidate demanded a show of his own or equal airtime in the election run-up?

15) The all-white student newspaper subplot. While not explicitly outlined in the trailer, the plot summaries touch on the fact that the student newspaper staff at the fictional school in the film is all-white. It does raise an intriguing question: How racially and ethnically diverse are student newspapers nowadays? I’m reminded of a flare-up last fall at The Pipe Dream at Binghamton University in which editors admitted a column deemed racist by many readers may not have been approved for publication if more minorities had been serving on the editorial staff.

What do you think of the trailer?


Student Blackface Column at Binghamton Leads to Protest Outside Newsroom

Journalism in Pop Culture Podcast: ‘Shattered Glass’

Forget Hunger Games; Student Critic Writes Glowing Review of Jennifer Lawrence’s Butt

4 Responses to “New Movie Has College Media Connection: Five Thoughts on ‘Dear White People’ Trailer”
  1. Bill DiNome says:

    The trailer made me laugh a few times and looks promising. And while every point made in this article about the reality of college media is spot-on, I’m willing to suspend disbelief in the name of storytelling. The film appears to address some real issues that remain stubbornly entrenched in American culture & mindset, so I’m hoping that it fulfills its promise of being provocative, substantial, and, yes, fun!

    • Dan Reimold says:

      Absolutely, times 10. Well put. Everything in post written with a smile. Genuinely excited to see this. Beyond its stellar reviews, there are so few movies featuring college media!

  2. rtc says:

    i don’t know how long “a long, long time ago” is, but WSAM, the super low power (like, its broadcast range was on campus only) station at the university of hartford was piped into the cafeteria during meal times when i was there in the late 90s. i had that time slot, it was sweet!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] other college radio news this week, Dan Reimold of College Media Matters alerts us to a new film (it hits theaters in October) that will feature college radio in a starring role. He […]