This piece originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s editorial hub.
Laron Chapman, 26, has worked on the sets of American Idol, the Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and Oscar-nominated August: Osage County. But his real passion is reserved for developing his own projects about some of the most salient social issues of our time.
Here, he discusses his latest project and speaks to making the conventional unconventional, growing up as a double minority, and calling out what’s so wrong about the way our society defines “race.”
I’m in the early stages of producing a film I wrote called You People. It’s a satirical comedy that explores identity, race, gender, stereotypes, and sexual orientation. There’s a lot of national discussion around the lack of minority representation across all areas of cinema, and I wrote this movie to bring some of the stereotypes fueling that to light. We plan to shoot this fall or early next spring.
You People chronicles the life and identity crisis of an African American college student who was adopted and raised by a liberal Caucasian family in the Bible Belt. It begins when a girl approaches the main character, Chad Johnson, on campus and assumes, because of Chad’s appearance, that he’s “Blacker” than he actually feels. This experience launches him into a cultural transformation during which he explores and re-discovers his identity. The film weaves in characters from all different backgrounds and aims to tell a really conventional story unconventionally.
The inspiration is my experience growing up in Oklahoma, an extremely conservative state, as an educated, cultured Black kid. My mother is an immigration lawyer, and perhaps because of this, I have eclectic interests that don’t exactly line up with society’s stereotypical representation of the Black male. This comes through in something as simple as the range of music I like; I listen to Coldplay, Florence and the Machine, and Adele just as often as I listen to Drake, Beyoncé, and Fetty Wap. I’ve had peers of various ethnicities tell me I’m “the Whitest Black guy” they’ve ever met, as if being Black or White comes with an instruction manual.
The media’s representation of minorities strongly influences the perception we have of others and of ourselves. The all too recent onslaught of racially motivated crimes, the Black Lives Matter movement, and divisive LGBT issues make the central message behindYou People more relevant than ever.
I’m immensely disheartened and distraught about the cruel, senseless act of hatred and violence last weekend. Heinous acts like these are a painful reminder of how personal prejudices, bigotry, racism, and homophobia have the power to harm others. And hatred doesn’t have to take the form of a massacre by an assault weapon.
As a Black, gay male, I’m often told I’m too “sensitive” or “reactionary” when I voice my concerns, fears, and frustrations about issues that affect the communities I come from. But evil is rooted in our words, actions, attitudes, and intolerance of those different from ourselves. Spreading a message of love and compassion is of paramount importance, and these principles are the governing traits of You People. It’s a film intended to encourage everyone to embrace the differences of others while simultaneously celebrating our individuality. Hate divides us. Love includes us. In the end, love always wins. I truly believe that.
Most of us have fallen victim to stereotypes, negative labels, and being unfairly associated with various groups based on perceived traits. “You people” is a common phrase used to disaffiliate ourselves from others while also viewing people through a narrow, one-sided lens (e.g. “I don’t store Louisiana hot sauce in my bag. I’m not like you people.”). I wish I could say that example was not taken from a real-life conversation.
In many ways, the film is an exaggerated version of my own life as a double minority. I was born in a mixed-race family (African-American and Caucasian), and I identify as a gay male. I was often told I was “too White” to be Black and “too Black” to be White, straddling the proverbial line that separated the two.
I struggled with my identity for years, unsure of where my allegiances should lie. Being a gay male only further complicated things. However, it was amongst the LGBT community that I was able to cultivate confidence, self-worth, and personality. I came to realize that I could be my own person — no label required. You People is all about staying true to your authentic self despite social norms.
Writing this film was cathartic for me, and I hope it inspires audiences to love and appreciate the person staring back at them in the mirror. SeeingYou People premiere at Sundance, Austin, or the Toronto Film Festival is a favorite daydream of mine. But at the end of the day, I hope it promotes social change and empowerment and generates compassion and empathy.
Take more creative risks, embrace life’s obstacles, be kind to others, listen attentively, live boldly, love often, learn frequently, and, well, watch a lot of damn movies.
Laron Chapman is a screenwriter and a freelance film production assistant from Oklahoma City. He graduated from University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Film and Media Studies. To watch a trailer and support *You People, visit Chapman’s latest Indiegogo page.*
Images courtesy of Laron Chapman
Cross-posted from Jopwell.