Oklahoma City filmmaker Laron Chapman premiered his first feature film, "You People," at the deadCenter Film Festival in June and won the award for Best Oklahoma Film. It’s the story of an adopted black college student in Oklahoma named Chad who grew up in a white, middle class family coming to terms with who he is.
Chapman, a University of Oklahoma graduate, told KGOU’s Caroline Halter the film’s exploration of race, culture and identity is deeply personal.
Laron Chapman: I am Chad in many ways. So they say writers are very selfish and they write about themselves. But, it's, um... Even coming here to the university, it's kind of interesting my dorm mate he told me whenever we were roommates that I was the whitest black guy he'd ever met. And I remember that resonated with me, because I didn't realize that by speaking a certain way, or liking certain types of music, or carrying myself a certain way meant that I was less of a black man. And at least it did in his eyes. And I realized that, while he was saying it somewhat jokingly, there was... I had seen that happen time and time again in different social settings, where people didn't identify me as a quote unquote "black male" because of the way because I didn't listen to hip hop, or didn't, you know, speak in Ebonics, or certain stereotypical things that people think about black men, black culture. So I thought it would be interesting to play with that in a film.
Caroline Halter: And is that where the title, "You People," came from?
Chapman: The title kind of sold it really well. 'Cause I think people get kind of an idea because you've heard that phrase before, you know, "I'm not like you people." And I could be rich versus poor, it could be black versus white, male versus female... So it works in so many different settings, and I thought it would just be a great umbrella term, you know, for the themes in the film in general.
Halter: I want to play a clip from one scene in particular, when Chad goes on a date with a girl named Melanie, who he says is quote "into black men." And so Chad's best friend who's white helps him change to fit their idea of black men. So he dresses differently. He starts walking differently. He starts talking differently. And Melanie is quick to point out that he's basically impersonating somebody that he's not.
Chapman: He's being inauthentic. It's not him .He's not being himself, yeah. And he could have been himself in the beginning, but he had to learn that. And I thought that using him as kind of a model would help people relate to what that struggle might be like and how, maybe, these things don’t apply to him, and that’s ok.
Halter: One thing I found interesting about the film was that Chad deals with racism no matter how he acts.
Chapman: Yeah. I think that that was important to show it didn't matter that he spoke the way that he did didn't matter that he was respectful. There are still things that are... That are inherently, just certain things that certain demographics have to deal with. And that's part of, it's part of being that person. And I thought it was kind of important to expose that as well, you know, to kind of show that there are different experiences that people live, and no matter how you navigate through them, you know, there's still certain things that people just don't understand about different people. And they wouldn't until you bring it to their attention.
Halter: So you have your director's statement which reads in part, "Representation matters. I hope to be a small part of making the film industry more diverse inclusive and dynamic." So I'm wondering, do you think that we're making progress?
Chapman: Absolutely. I think when I wrote this script I would have said we had a lot more work to do. 'Cause I wrote this script probably almost four years ago now. Moonlight just won best picture of the year a couple of years ago. And then also we had "Get Out," and we have "Black Panther." So you're seeing those changes because we're having the conversation now.
Halter: What's next for you? Are you working on another film?
Chapman: I am. I'm writing another feature film. It'll be in the same universe. I'll say that it's kind of a LGBT political twist on the body swap movie, like such as "Freaky Friday," or what have you. And it'll be tackling the same kind of topics again. But in this scenario we're having a closeted gay male swapping bodies with a middle-aged kind of homophobic type of person, and then having them kind of live in each other's skin for a little bit and kind of see what it is we're not understanding about these two groups. And I want to tell that story in particular because of the political divide that we have now. I think it would be topical, and kind of of the moment for sure. And it would be a good sister project to "You People."
Halter: Laron Chapman, thank you so much for joining us.
Chapman: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
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