America may have a black president, but the arrest last week of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. proves the country still has a serious race problem.
That is the view of Omowale Akintunde, who has spent the week shooting a feature film about race.
The movie, which bears the provocative title “Wigger,” tells the story of an aspiring white R&B singer who is struggling to overcome a racist and impoverished family background.
Filming began at various locations in north Omaha last week. Some scenes also were shot in the west Omaha home of retired Walnut Hills Elementary School principal Edwardene Taylor Armstrong and her husband, former Omaha Housing Authority director Robert Armstrong.
The movie is currently scheduled for an April 2010 release.
Akintunde, who became chairman of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Black Studies Department last year, said the message of his film is clear.
“We still have institutional racism in America,” he said during a break Friday. “Look what happened to Gates.”
Gates, the director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, was arrested for disorderly conduct on the porch of his Cambridge, Mass., home after a confrontation with a police officer. Police had responded to a report of a suspected break-in at the home.
The charge was later dropped, but the arrest nonetheless drew sharp criticism from President Barck Obama, who said the police had “acted stupidly.” On Friday, Obama conceded his words had been ill-chosen, but he stopped short of a public apology. He personally telephoned both Gates and the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, and invited them to the White House for a beer.
Akintunde, a widely published academic who also directed several previous films, is intentionally less conciliatory than Obama. The director, a graduate of the New York Film Academy‘s directing school, wants to stir up debate. And he sees some similarities between Gates’ arrest and his film.