MTV, as part of its ongoing “Look Different” anti-bias campaign, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, have joined forces to present “White People,” a first-of-its-kind documentary exploring race, whiteness, and how young white people perceive their racial identity in an increasingly multiracial America.
The film was produced in collaboration with Vargas’s nonprofit, Define American, which uses the power of stories to transcend politics and shift the conversation around immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America.
“White People” follows Vargas across the country as he uncovers the stories of five young white people from varying backgrounds, as well as many more young people who participated in conversations at their local schools and community centers about race.
The documentary premieres Wednesday, July 22 at 8pm ET /PT on MTV, and will simultaneously be made available on MTV.com, the MTV App, MTV’s Facebook page and its YouTube channel, as well as the following morning on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and MTV’s Video On Demand services.
“We saw last week the dire effects racism gone unchecked has on our communities. The need for an honest and open conversation about the roles race and white privilege play in our society is more needed than ever,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, founder of Define American and founder/editor of #EmergingUS, an upcoming digital magazine in partnership with the Los Angeles Times that will cover race, immigration and identity, as well as white Americans as an emerging racial minority.
Vargas added: “Race is a sensitive subject no matter who you are and our goal with the documentary is to treat each person, story and community featured in the documentary with the utmost respect, all while exploring what race means to them.”
“Whiteness often remains unexamined in conversations about race in this country, even as it acts as the implicit norm against which other racial identities are judged,” said Stephen Friedman, President of MTV. “By shining a spotlight on whiteness, we hope ‘White People’ will serve as a powerful conversation starter that encourages our audience to address racial bias through honest, judgment-free dialogue.”
I’ll likely be checking it out for the first time with the rest of you tomorrow night – meaning, I haven’t seen it yet. But a number of TV critics have, and here are summaries of what each of them has to say about it:
From Variety: The title “White People” was clearly intended to provoke folks like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who eagerly took the bait. Get past that, and MTV’s latest addition to its “Look Different” campaign is a credible if rather thin exploration of “white privilege” and the evolving conversation about race. Produced, directed and hosted by filmmaker/journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, the documentary focuses on how younger whites view matters of race, including those afflicted by a sense of victimization regarding affirmative-action policies and those who favor a color-blind society. It’s generally interesting, but seldom digs farther than skin-deep.
From The Hollywood Reporter: There’s so much prospect for challenge and stimulation here, yet Vargas never digs deep, jumping away from these varying tales right when they’re getting interesting (and just in time for commercial break). White People wants to be an agent of change, but it would first need to have more than the ephemeral quality of a Twitter hashtag.
From the New York Times: The director, the journalist and immigration activist Jose Antonio Vargas, sees the film as a conversation starter, and while there’s nothing very revelatory about it — white consciousness and privilege being awfully big subjects to tackle in 40 minutes of screen time — it’s consistently engaging. Mr. Vargas is a good match for MTV because he privileges emotion over analysis, and he’s able to draw interesting and occasionally moving responses from his college-age subjects… In true MTV style, the film seeks out high-yield situations, visiting white teachers at a South Dakota reservation, for instance, or an Arizona woman who believes that being white kept her from getting college scholarships. And there are moments that recall the network’s baser reality shows, such as when a black college student breaks into tears while discussing the meanings of “ghetto,” or when Mr. Vargas solemnly asks the Arizonan about her college aspirations, “How badly do you want this?”
And from Yahoo TV: The very idea behind the MTV documentary White People — exploring the notion of “white privilege” courtesy of producer-interviewer Jose Antonio Vargas — was sufficient to get various, usually politically conservative, wings of the internet in an angry snit. This, without any of the offended having seen White People. Now that it’s here, White People turns out to be a well-meaning but toothless exploration of its topic. Vargas jumps around, from Rapid City, South Dakota, to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, most of the time asking white folks to talk about race matters. The one time he engages two young black women to join in the discussion, one of them bursts into tears when a white kid too-casually uses the term “ghetto” as an all-purpose term of negativity. It would have been great to explore the real pain behind those tears, but this is MTV, and its rapid-editing style does not allow for prolonged discussion or analysis.
And there are a few more just like the above; in short, it was made with the right intentions, but ultimately lacks any real depth – even if only because it’s an MTV production; a network I haven’t watched at all in many years, but that I’d like to think, at one time in its history, would’ve tackled the subject matter much more comprehensively and profoundly – at least, based on what the reviews I’ve read have said about the documentary. Buy maybe it’s a start – a door opener that will see further projects on the exploration of race, identify, whiteness, and white privilege in an increasingly multiracial America.
Or maybe we should all just watch Justin Simien’s "Dear White People" instead…
Watch 3 clips from "White People" below and the trailer: