I actually thought that the film had already been released theatrically in the UK, but I may be confusing its film festival screenings in parts of the UK, with what I thought was a theatrical run.
The film has not been formally released theatrically across the pond, and that’s thanks, in part to, the fact that, despite overwhelming critical and commercial acclaim here in the USA (and, from what I’ve read, sold-out and repeat screenings at the UK film festivals where it did screen last year), the film has struggled to find a distributor in the UK.
According to UK-based Screen Daily magazine, no established distributors bit on the theatrical rights to the film, and it would take the efforts of a grassroots black film-focused distribution organization – The New Black Film Collective, led by Priscilla Igwe – to draw attention to this fact.
The New Black Film Collective had to cough up the money to secure rights to the film, but no distribution support followed from any of the major players, and commercial theater chains haven’t stepped up to slot the film; in fact, until last week no theaters (mega chains of small independent screening houses) had agreed to even a minimum 7-day run. Why?
“I was very surprised no-one had picked it up yet,” Igwe said to Screen Daily. “Other companies had passed on it. They probably found it difficult and perhaps didn’t know how to pitch it so I thought ‘why not’? This could be the catalyst for the New Black Film Collective. This could be a calling card.’ I knew it was a goer… It’s much harder for black film… We have to work much harder to get the same opportunities and we have to work much harder to get the same support."
In response, one anonymous distribution exec said: "We looked at the film… It is always about defining how big the audience is for it. We are looking to do meaningful box office on even the smaller films and we felt like the film fell below that mark. There’s still business in it, though”.
By the time a UK theatrical deal for "Dear White People" was finally struck in March, Signature, which bought the home entertainment rights, had already scheduled a UK home entertainment release for August, and the film had already been sold to Netflix, which had set a UK October release date for the film. Both of these occurrences shortened the film’s theatrical release window even further (August is just around the corner).
This was, in part, why many theater chains refused to show it – especially the larger chains.
But the film is now set to roll out in about 10 independently-owed theater venues, in July, while Igwe and her New Black Film Collective continue to push for more theaters to schedule the film. To that end, the collective has teamed up with blactivist group BARAC to launch an online petition calling for UK movie theaters to screen the film. The contents of the petition thus far signed by over 600 people, follows below:
‘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 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 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.
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.
To find out more and sign the petition, go to:https://www.change.org/p/uk-cinemas-bfi-screen-dear-white-people-in-cinemas-across-the-uk.