The black experience at Yale University, as depicted by the new documentary "Still Black, At Yale", seems remarkably similar to the black experience at any majority-white institution in America. While this revelation may be fresh or interesting to some, most people watching this film will find themselves searching for more substance from this retread into racism."Still Black" documents the realities of being black at the famed Ivy League university by interviewing a disparate group of students of color. In one early scene, the filmmakers visit a meeting held by members of the Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY), a group with a venerable tradition of African American campus activism. During a heated discussion, an animated member proposes that they take control of a college building to protest supposed racial profiling in the campus library. Soon afterwards, the group has a withering showdown with the mostly-white staff of the campus newspaper over a series of editorials denouncing Amiri Baraka, the controversial black poet.
The BSAY members support Baraka's right to free speech _he has claimed that Jews were secretly informed about the September 11 attacks and were warned to stay away from the World Trade Center that day _but have no interest in letting the Jewish editor-in-chief of the newspaper have his say. Instead, there is fiery name-calling and accusations of racism fly back and forth.
The dated revolutionary rhetoric of some BSAY members in this segment of the film typify some of the flaws of the project. Many of the complaints that the articulate students make about their school are probably familiar to most black students or professionals that have lived or worked in a majority-white setting. There is nothing particularly distinctive about their problems, and some of their extremist responses lack maturity and perspective. Other forms of student reaction to both alleged and real racism are uninspired: some join black fraternities and support groups, while others deal with their isolation by rejecting the stereotypical black identity.
The film does a commendable job of revealing a spectrum of black opinion at Yale, from the baffling claim of one student that white people can be black to another student's astute observation about the limits of a group identity based on shared complexion. Unfortunately, while the production is technically sound, the films larger theme seems trite to an outside world not familiar with, or interested in, race-tinted strife on Yales leafy Connecticut campus.