‘Dear White People’ Star Tyler James Williams Talks Labels, ‘The Walking Dead’ and More

Dear White People hits select theaters today, and FanBolt had the opportunity to chat with star Tyler James Williams about his role in the eye-opening film.

I was able to check the film out before interviewing its young star, and as someone who’s been following the movie’s rise to success via the festival circuit since last year, I was further convinced that it definitely deserves all of the attention and accolades its been getting. The movie is a microcosm of the struggles that black people face daily, examining these issues through the lens of race relations on a college campus.

Tyler’s character is Lionel Higgins, an aspiring journalist who seeks to find his voice throughout the film as a young man who doesn’t identify with what the rest of the world thinks a black man should. “When I first read [the script] I expected all the other characters, but I did not expect [Lionel]. In one aspect, I loved the fact that he was the “other.” He was black, but given the issues that the black community has a lot of times with the gay community, that already separated him in the sense of he didn’t know what he was. He didn’t identify with any one group. And the fact that he’s a writer and doesn’t know his voice is perfect. It’s something that I think all writers go through at some point in time of trying to figure out, “What do I want to say?”…”What is my thing?” and being pigeon-holed into handling “the black issues” is not necessarily what he wants to do, although he does need acceptance in some way, so he’s willing to do that even to feel that one moment of acceptance.”

If you’ve seen the film, you know there’s a certain party scene that’s uncomfortable to watch, to say the least. “That scene is so intense and hits so hard because it had to go there for us to do this accurately,” explained Tyler. “If we played it so PC, and I’m kind of happy that it wasn’t that PC when we shot it, because that’s not how those parties really are! They’re not politically correct. It had to go there. And they happen! A LOT.”

Former child star Raven Symone recently made some controversial statements about how she’d prefer not to be labeled by her race or sexuality. Interestingly enough, Lionel makes the same statement in the film, so I asked Tyler what his take was on labels and the controversy behind not wanting to conform to them. “In a lot of ways, I say the same thing. Everybody freaked out about that, and I did not understand it at all. I think it’s very close-minded and ignorant to say that “I am something that has to do with my genetic make-up.” If your first thing to say is that you are that… something that has nothing to do with you, at all, I don’t see how that defines a human being one way or another. I don’t negate the fact that I’m black, and I don’t negate the fact that I relate to certain black experiences in the black community and all that, but that’s not who I am. Other people have asked me before “Well, who are you?” I feel like saying “I’m black” and saying “I’m my father’s son” are the same thing…except one has a bit more gravity.

“Identifying as the color of your skin is so minimal to me. That’s what I loved about Lionel. He doesn’t want to be anything, he wants to be Lionel. When I heard what Raven said, I heard she just wants to be Raven…I think on a deeper level people were really upset about it because they thought she was saying she’s not black or doesn’t identify with the community or whatever they thought she was saying. But on a deeper level it’s true! That’s what this movie’s about… what is black? ”

Finally, news recently broke of Tyler’s involvement in Atlanta-filmed The Walking Dead as a mystery character, so naturally I had to ask him for a little more than that. “I’ll give it to you this way,” said Tyler, “Anything regarding The Walking Dead ever, if it’s not put out and you’re then reading about it, you probably aren’t going to know about it. They won’t let us say- it’s one of those contracts like if you say anything we’ll sue you for what we thought the project would make. It’s like one of those. It’s like what number are you quoting? But then they keep breaking records, so I guess it works. I can say that the character’s name is Noah. That’s all I can tell you.” I tried people.

Oh! And if you’re wondering if he misses Everybody Hates Chris? “No…You appreciate the time for what it was, but nobody wants to go back”.

Watch the trailer for Dear White People below and definitely go check it out in theaters, regardless of your race:

Photo Credit: Mike McKinney


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