Actor Tyler James Williams discusses “Dear White People” and “The Walking Dead”

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Actor Tyler James Williams understands that some folks might feel a little uncomfortable when standing in line for “Dear White People.” They might feel uncomfortable talking about it ahead of time, too, he said.

IMG_5037“But as they’re watching it, they’re comfortable,” he said. “If people will sit down with this and watch it, they’ll have something to talk about.”

The movie, which opens Friday in Atlanta, is set on a fictional college campus where racial tension is brewing behind the stately, ivy-covered walls. The campus lacks racial diversity and the privileged white students on campus include clueless dopes who inadvertently make racist remarks (“I love your hair; is that a weave?”) and blatantly offensive idiots who think a hip-hop-themed party is funny.

Here’s a trailer (that’s Williams in his movie wig, front and center):

Students of color trying to navigate their way through school include Sam (Tessa Thompson), whose topical radio show gives the movie its title; Coco (Teyonah Parris), who has showbiz aspirations but learns producers are more interested in conflict than poise; and Williams’ character, Lionel, who is content to quietly observe the situation around him — until he isn’t.

“I related a lot to Lionel,” Williams said during an interview this week to discuss the movie. “He’s avoiding labels. That’s something I love to do.”

Another trailer:

The movie is both funny and sharply on-point, and concludes with a montage of images of actual, modern-day college students engaged in racist activities such as attending parties in blackface.

“It’s a movie that should take days to process,” Williams said. “Everybody’s experience should be unique. You should walk away having an inner monologue and an outer dialogue.”

One more trailer:

Speaking of dialogue, Williams couldn’t engage in much regarding his new role on “The Walking Dead.” His character, Noah, shows up this season, and that’s about all he could say.

“I can tell you absolutely nothing about my character,” said Williams, whose earlier TV shows have included “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Go On.” “What I can say is it’s one of the most intense shows I’ve ever worked on in my life with some of the best actors. Andy Lincoln (who plays Rick Grimes) is one of the best. No one does it better.”

Here’s a “Walking Dead” trailer:

While the AMC hit and his new movie are vastly different, Williams could see parallels in a college campus dealing with racism and a post-apocalyptic society dealing with zombies. The common threads: fear of the unknown and the good that comes from banding together.

“One of the greatest things I love about ‘Walking Dead’ is you can tell they purposefully brought together people who would never otherwise talk to each other,” he said. “People think that they hold tight to their stereotypes and their racist thoughts. It’s not true. It’s very easy to bring us all together. We just need a common goal.”


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