Dear White People opened in theaters nationwide this weekend and we hope you went to see it… because it was AMAZING!
“Dear White People” Actor Tyler James Williams Talks To BOSSIP About Race & Sexuality
BOSSIP had a chance to chop it up with one of the stars of the movie Tyler James Williams, who many of you will recognize from his starring role on “Everybody Hates Chris.” Check out the interview below:
BOSSIP: You were a child actor, do you think you escaped a lot of the racism most people of color experience or is there a different kind of racism that comes with working in Hollywood?
Tyler James:Race and race relations and racism permeates every situation. So many people look at the child actor experience and think it is so different from the regular child experience and it’s really not. I was on a show with a bunch of kids so it was a lot like the high school experience, instead of talking about Homecoming we talked about what we were wearing to the Emmy’s, it was the same thing just on a grander scale. Racism has permeated every aspect of life. It doesn’t make it any different where you are, it actually makes it a bit worse being a young black male with money and a lot of people don’t like that.
Can you tell me about a time you experienced racism?
TJW: I had it recently. I had a birthday, going into a high end store to make a purchase and being followed around the store. And then at the register making a purchase and pulling out money and them being almost like offended at the fact that you could make this purchase. Even with flights and people walking by first class, clearly offended that you’re here. I think it also has to do with age in that case. I’m like half their age. It happens, everybody has their opinions and some are not as good at not showing on their face.
There was an article that came out recently saying that only 20% of white people think that racism is still a problem:
TJW: Because there is an African-American President, I can see why some people would think that, but it’s not the case. I think it boils down to that the minute that you assume that you understand somebody’s experience that is not your experience that you isolate them and racism festers and grows. If someone has been sexually assaulted, you don’t really see people saying “I think it’s been long enough, it’s time for you to get over this,” because you haven’t experienced it. I think it’s the same thing with this. We have not had a lot of people who have experienced what the black community has experienced. And the same thing with the Jewish community with the Holocaust. We can’t sit here and go “That’s not an issue anymore, you’re fine,” because that’s not our experience. We have to understand that we don’t understand. And that’s what will bring us together.
The film is really humorous and that’s part of the theme, like what’s funny vs. what’s racist?
TJW: The humor is what opens the door. If we browbeat this kinda stuff into people then noone would want to hear it. If you can sit there and laugh and realize that everybody in the room is laughing — great, we’re good. But I also think it shows that, Justin tiptoed that line so well of showing that you can laugh at what’s not funny, the fact that it’s not funny and it’s happening is why you’re laughing rather than laughing at something that’s very stereotypical, rather than laughing at something that you would have naturally thought. In some of the screenings at Sundance there were people who were both laughing and crying at the same time saying “I didn’t know that that was a problem” and the fact that you made fun of the problem made it easier for me to see that. We made fun of the fact that yes touching my hair is an issue and that you don’t don’t realize that touching my hair is an issue.Rather than going “touching my hair is an issue and you guys joke about that,” we go, “Ok look at how clueless you guys are that this is an issue to me. ”
There were a lot of objections to the campaign for this film…
TJW: All of our comments on YouTube are like a race war. Whenever I see that I say “Just go watch the film and you’ll realize that’s not what it is.” People make so many assumptions when it comes to anything regarding race. They’re so ready to fight. It’s just like, “Dear White People” but if you go see the film you’ll see it’s a radio show called “Dear White People” it’s not an open letter! People said, “What if it was Dear Black People?” They’re literally pulling a line from the film. We’re not dumb. We’re not stupid. We know that. It’s just people wanting to be angry at something. A lot of white audiences feel targeted by black audiences saying “things are still bad for us and you guys are the problem” and they want to defend that immediately. Just go see it and if you don’t like it, great, it was 12 bucks. But go see it and then tell me what you thought about it. It’s kinda like when Django came out and everyone was all up in arms and it wasn’t even out yet.
Your character has such a progression. He starts out as kind of the loser and ultimately ends up being the one to spark the “riot.” Were you surprised?
I wasn’t because I knew something had to change. Lionel is very conflicted and unsure of himself and unsure of who he is and any good story with a character like that will have a moment where he’s forced to make a decision. He just doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to be just black or just gay. He doesn’t want to be anything. He just wants to be Lionel, but unfortunately life doesn’t always give you that convenience. He was forced to make that stance. You see in the fight with Kurt he becomes almost a different person. That’s something that happens to everybody in life where you don’t really figure out who you are until you are forced to stand for something or take it in stride.
Besides your character, who else did you relate to most?
I’d have to say Troy. I find myself using a lot of Troy’s tactics in my life. I felt like they were reading a page from my book in his modulating his blackness scene. It’s a coping mechanism that anybody who deals with a lot of different groups of people use. I’m sure if white friends of mine saw me interact with black friends of mine they’d be like “Who is that?” I was so convicted sitting there watching feeling like they were talking about me specifically and looking around and seeing everyone else feeling the same way. I read that and it didn’t mean anything to me and when I saw it, it really hit me.
You play a gay character in this film, were you concerned about what people would think?
Not really. I think for me period with any kind of romantic scene whether it be gay, straight, whatever — they never connect. It’s like I can speak words that aren’t mine and don’t have to connect to them. it’s the same thing. I did a play one time where I pretty much had to have sex on stage and it never connected to me. It’s an action. I’ve had people in a lot of Christian people knowing what I believe go “How can you do that?”
What do you believe?
I am Christian but I believe that my beliefs do not matter when you speak about what somebody deserves to have. In the same way that we’re now fighting ISIS and all that and going “They’re radical for saying that we need to die!” Their belief system is that because of what we do, we deserve to die. We’re essentially saying, you can’t force us to abide by what you believe. I believe that is the same regardless of what any group of people believes. You cannot make another group of people who do not believe what you believe abide by your beliefs. This story needed to be told. No one is talking about this. Even from a civil rights stance of we talk about the Civil Rights movement and act like gay marriage is not a civil rights issue. If we’re going to stand here and be a pro-Civil Rights community there is a whole group of people we are not standing behind and that’s an issue if this is what we say that we do. I wasn’t that concerned, my parents put it like “If you were to play the Joker we wouldn’t assume that you’re a psychopath. We know this is your job and this is what you do and either way do it right.”
Do you think interracial dating still an issue?
I always say that that’s what will end racism. Sex. I feel like kids are turning into shades of khaki and you can’t tell what anybody is anymore. Which is great. My girlfriend is Dominican. It’s just eventually everyone is going to come together and make this humanoid that you can’t tell what it is. You ask people what they are now and they list like eight things. It’s a good thing ladies and gentlemen. The swirl, which obviously is an ice cream reference, is the best when you can’t tell if it’s chocolate or vanilla and it’s just both together.
So you’re pro-swirl?
Absolutely. Whatever you like — do that! Don’t think you have to be one way or another, whatever your thing is, as long as it’s not hurting anybody and it’s two consenting adults, do what you do. Hopefully it will push us in the right direction.
Raven-Symoné was met with a huge backlash for saying she’s not an “African-American”
I don’t know why. I really don’t get what the big issue is. I saw it and I was like “okay.” I’m one of those people who don’t want to be anything that had nothing to do with me first. When you label yourself that is just your genetic makeup, you had nothing to do with that, that doesn’t really define you. I don’t think she was saying “I’m not black.” She obviously is and she obviously identifies with the community but in the same way if anybody asks who I am, “I’m my father’s son, I’m an entertainer.” My first answer isn’t “I’m black.” Just because that had nothing to do with me. I don’t necesssarily view my experiences as “black experiences.” I have experiences that are specific to the entertainment industry. I really don’t see why everybody was so up in arms about it. Raven stayed fairly quiet for some time, this was the first major thing she’s said in awhile. Anybody that goes “I’m black!” Really, that’s it?
There’s been a backlash to the people embracing “New Black”
We’re changing. There’s a new black. There’s a new white. Nothing is the same anymore. Social media has changed a lot of things. So many people were mad at Iggy for being a rapper and so many people were mad at Macklemore. There were people calling him garbage, but it’s like okay we have bad black rappers too. There are a lot of those too. So they’re not just bad because they’re white. I don’t even think they’re bad. If you look at Iggy specifically you have a girl trying to break into a predominantly black audience. One of the first things I heard of her was about her butt. And it was like “Alright, we’ll let her in. She’s got a black girl’s butt.” She has to do that or have that to get into this audience. The black community is a hard audience to get to especially with hip-hop. I don’t think it’s pushing. I was listening to a pop station and they literally played Taylor Swift “Shake it Off” and T.I.’s “No Mediocre” back to back. It’s a great thing T.I. and Taylor Swift can be played back to back. Pimp Squad Click, Trap Muzik T.I. is now being played on Z-100 and he’s still not talking about anything that different. It’s not like he’s a bubblegum kind of rapper. He’s still someone very respected as someone you don’t mess with. I thought “Thrift Shop” was great in the same way YG’s record was great.
T.I. is an actor now, if you’re up for a role against him and he gets the part, how do you feel?
It depends on the role. That’s happened to me before. Not with T.I. but I’ve always said that there is a double standard that rappers can become actors but actors can’t go the other way. Childish had to completely shed Donald Glover to do it. I’m curious to see if he goes back and forth. I don’t have as much of an issue with it as people would think. There are not great actors out there who are making it who are not rappers, so I probably have as much of an issue with that… I actually think T.I. is a great actor. When you look at ATL I’m not sure someone else could have pulled that off as well. There’s definitely room for it as long as everyone trains and studies.
What are you working on right now?
“The Walking Dead…” No I can’t say anything.
So, did you see “Dear White People” yet? Will you be going to see it? We want to know your thoughts on the film!