By Jane Merker
The Prep School Negro details the life of its director, Andr Robert Lee. He grew up in a low-income neighborhood in Philadelphia. His father was absent, and his mother worked at a factory stringing the waistbands into mens swim trunks. I had very little contact with people who were neither black nor poor, he said.
At 14 Lee received a full-ride to a prestigious prep school, Germantown Friends. There he gained access to a world of intellectual privilege, but it came at a cost. The film explores not only Lees experience but those of black students attending private schools.
A sizeable audience turned out for Mondays screening and lecture, which was sponsored by the Black Student Union, Discrimination Advisors, Crozier Center for Women, Office of the Provost, Multicultural Affairs, Office of Admissions, Natural Sciences Division and Student Activities.
The film wrestles with what Lee terms psychological homelessness. For many black students entering a primarily white school, Lee said, theres a feeling they need to give up things to be successful and everything about me is wrong. In the film, he recalls an instance when he axed a peer a question. The peer responded, If you axe me, Ill bleed.
The film strives to raise awareness of those issues rather than provide solutions. A lot of [the issue] is understanding what racism is, Lee said. By his definition, race + power + prejudice = racism.
The students of color interviewed in the film struggle with self-perception: what does it mean to be black in a predominately white academic environment? Theres no such thing as a black experience, just the experience of being black, Lee said. If people dont have constant exposure to people that are different than them, they lose that sensitivity and understanding.
In the journey of the film, Lee comes to terms with his race and his family; he learns to accept rather than disown.
After the film, discussion opened up to general questions concerning perceptions of race. Students voiced their concerns and personal experiences with the issues touched on in the film. You must verbalize internal dialogue to make change, Lee told the crowd.
Lee also said making the film was a kind of therapy. This film saved my life, he said. If youre having issues, make a documentary.