The marriage of artistry and activism is an enduring one. In student filmmaking, nowhere has this bond been more apparent than in “Color Me Blind” by Will Drinker from Emerson College, my selection for the mtvU Best Film on Campus pick of the week.
“Color Me Blind” is not only a quality film; it’s an important film. It’s clever, funny and poignant at once, and it’s hands down the best film I’ve featured as an mtvU critic thus far.
The film’s hero is Carolyn, an unassuming young woman who becomes the first black member to join an all-white diversity group. As the group prepares for an upcoming diversity rally, Carolyn soon discovers she has become more punchline than participant in a club where fakeness is encouraged and ignorance is a prerequisite.
Her name mispronounced, her ideas ignored and her skin color used as a prop for the others’ own foolhardy devices, Carolyn unwittingly becomes the straight man – or straight woman, as it were – in a discouraging yet all-too-common instance of accidental racism.
For the theme of the rally, members boisterously suggest Harriet Tubman. For their song, they blast “Amazing Grace.” For their speech, leaders belch out Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!”
Sound artificial? Superficial? Stereotypical? Hypocritical?
That’s because it is.
Drinker tackles headlong the hypocrisy of many universities’ impotent, PR-friendly stabs at racial diversity.
As funny – make that as uproariously funny – as “Color Me Blind” is, it’s even more valuable as a sociopolitical commentary.
Too often in this country, collegiate student organizations and university administrators alike collectively pat themselves on the back for making their campus “more diverse” – much like the group members in the film. But the sad truth is, many of our efforts are self-serving and end up doing more harm than good.
I’ve read memos and other documents terming campus diversity efforts, “multi-cultural endeavors,” “ethnic enhancement” or “racial augmentation.”
We euphemize cultural diversity, dilute it and drain it of its true import. We call ourselves heralds of racial equality yet haven’t the foggiest idea what that means.
Do we do it to feel good about ourselves? Do we do it to impress our peers or bolster our transcripts? Yes, yes and yes!
Drinker does not suggest whites can’t make a difference – only that students and the universities they represent too often don’t and make a mockery of those very people they presume to support.
Villanova is one of these schools – as much as we try to hide it, deny it, pretend we aren’t it.
Historically one of the whitest universities in the country, Villanova has now, finally, deemed it necessary to push cultural diversity on campus.
A noble aspiration, for sure.
But are we doing it the right way? For the right reasons? Are we doing it because “Vanillanova” doesn’t sound good or profitable?
Our college tours parade minority students around like mascots. All our commercials strategically include Asian, Indian, black or Latino students, as if these ethnicities are somehow well-represented.
Can we be any more obvious? Does anyone else see how ridiculous this is?
I wish I could say we are an anomaly. I wish I could say we are an exception to the rule. We are not. The epidemic of euphemized, hollow and face-valued cultural diversity is rampant in colleges the country over.
Drinker exposes majority-lad pro-minority politics for what it truly and completely is: hypocrisy. Behind the smiling faces and syrupy dogma there lies misguidance, selfishness and ignorance.
Neither I, nor Drinker, suggest white students or predominantly white universities like Villanova can’t make a difference.
Surely they can and have. We say only that too many aren’t making the right kind of difference the real difference.
Each and every day I work in an office with people who are truly fighting for real cultural diversity – good people who have devoted their lives to improving conditions and creating opportunities for minority and underprivileged students; Cuban-American, Asian-American and just-white-American (gasp!) people doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Drinker’s film is a pointed criticism of the very people who, regardless of intent, befowl their efforts.
Instead of erecting bronze statues of minority students, how about offering them more scholarships? Or, Heaven forbid, offer scholarships to underprivileged applicants regardless of race?
“Color Me Blind” demonstrates that it’s not enough to have our hearts in the right place; we need our heads in the right place, too.
Who knew a five-minute movie by a small-college undergraduate could ask such daring questions? Still think student filmmaking doesn’t matter?
The film is a testament not only to the value of student filmmaking but, more importantly, a testament to the power of student activism.
“Color Me Blind” can be viewed in-full on mtvU and bestfilmoncampus.com.