This past Saturday, The Department of Theatre screened alumna Jenna Bleecker’s newest film “Descry." The film is a 21st-century adaptation of the 1964 play, “Dutchman” written by Amiri Baraka.
The 10-minute film focuses on a young black man in a diner in anywhere-America, and delves into both subtle and obvious racism through a series of intentionally cliched interactions with people around him.
About 30 people filled the Big 12 Room in the Kansas Union on Saturday to view the film, but no one seemed prepared for what they witnessed.
“That’s a very painful film to watch,” Nicole Hodges Persley, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre, said.
After introducing the film excitedly, Persley continued in a somber tone.
“My voice has changed because I was changed by the film," Persley said.
Immediately after the screening, Persley said that, as a woman of color, the tropes of “Descry," though cliches to some, were day-to-day realities for her and her family.
“I think through on a daily basis whether I will see my husband when I get home,” Persley said. “And it extends into all factors of my life: will I see my students tomorrow? Will I see my colleagues?”
Joining Persley, a panel met after the film to discuss the heavy subject matter in a tense and emotional discussion that lasted for two hours.
Bleecker, the film’s writer, co-producer and cast member, Jane Barnette, an assistant professor in the theater department, Darren Canady, an associate professor in the Department of English, and Clarence Lang, a professor of African and African-American Studies each discussed their individual experiences with race and racism in America.
The discussion after the screening was an emotional experience. Members of the audience were comfortable enough to voice their varying opinions, sometimes in tears and other times in frustrated, raised voices.
“The point of the film is to make you uncomfortable,” Bleecker said. “When I first started writing this, Ferguson had just happened and I thought, 'This is something that needs to be talked about.'”
While the majority of reactions were positive, the portrayal of the stereotypical "angry black woman" trope brought some backlash against Bleecker.
"I was hurt most, not by the reflection of how people of color are treated, but how I was represented," one audience member said, in reference to the one black female character. "As a black woman, I never would have agreed to playing that part."
Bleecker agreed, and said that she used stereotypes of all the characters represented to help underline the audacity of the topic, but some were not convinced she had gone about it the right way.
"The fact that this is still a problem from people who are trying to help the situation proves that we still have a long way to go," Canady said.
While the film is currently running in festival circuits, it cannot be released to the public. Bleecker hopes to distribute “Descry” via iTunes and other online media sometime within the next year.
— Edited by Missy Minear