United Voice: At the Movies


The main character in the opening clip from the trailer for "You People," the first feature film for Oklahoma City based filmmaker Laron Chapman, says : "My name is Chad Johnson and I'm not your typical black guy. I shop at Hollister, I listen to rock music and I think Two Chainz is a fancy name for a hardware store." The plot continues to tackle racial stereotypes, such as, a black man adopted by a white family. He enjoys country music and does well in school. His white best friend is steeped in hip hop culture, and their Asian friend is terrible at math.

What does it mean to BE your race? Is defined by the music you listen to or the hobbies you enjoy? These are questions Laron Chapman explores in "You People," a comedic take on racial stereotypes

While what you see on the screen may be a work of fiction, racial identity is something that Chapman has struggled with his entire life. He says, "I'm not black enough to be associated with the black community, and I'm too black to be embraced all the way by whites." He's even been called "the whitest black guy" by friends, which Chapman says illustrates a pervasive problem with peoples ideas of what it means to be black or white. Chapman says, "he was attributing my intellect or the way I spoke or what I listened to to be white."

Many of his own life experiences inspired Chapman to write "You People." And finding that balance between humor, while still getting his message across, was key. Chapman recalls, "there's an incident in the film that's also from my life when you get pulled over by a police officer and there's this fear instantly that this might be the last time that I'm alive."

Chapman, the oldest of 12 siblings, grew up in a mixed race family. His mom is a successful lawyer who instilled the value of education in her children. So, Chapman got himself a full ride to OU studying film. She also passed along her love for the Dixie Chicks, saying "I mean that's just what I grew up loving, I didn't think that meant there was instruction manual for how to be a black male or how to be a black person."

Chapman says growing up he obviously knew he was of a darker complexion. But it was until middle school when he first attributed any meaning to that, saying "his way of kind of belittling me was saying the N-word, I knew that he was using that as a weapon." But that power was not something Chapman was going to let define him. While "You People" is his first feature, his film career has taken off. He even worked with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts on the set of "August: Osage County."

When it comes to his passion for film though,Chapman says there is a clear lack of minority representation, both on screen and off. He says "if the only thing you knew about African Americans was what you saw on film, film and music, you have every right to be fearful of them."That tide seems to be SLOWLY shifting. Black Panther smashed box office records, director Jordan Peele received critical acclaim and Oscar nods for his movie Get Out, and Moonlight nabbed a Best Picture win in 2016.

Chapman calls this the very beginning of a Renaissance saying, "its shown us, one, that yes we have a long way to go but we also have a lot of people that are willing to do it."

You can catch "You People" at an OKC Film Festival in the next few months. To see the full trailer and get the latest on when you can see it, click here:

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