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Popular documentary ‘Prep School Negro’ returns to Brooklyn Public Library for Black History Month

Post-racial? No way, says documentary

The Brooklyn Paper
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There’s a line forming for a new controversial movie — at the library.

One of the Brooklyn Public Library’s most popular screenings ever is back by popular demand — a new documentary by a New York-based filmmaker about the experience of black children who attend elite prep schools.

The Brooklyn Public Library’s director of programming said scheduling another screening of “Prep School Negro” as part of a slate of events celebrating Black History Month was a no-brainer after it sold out at an early showing in October.

“I’ve never had a turnout like that for a film,” said Meredith Walters, the director of Programs and Exhibitions at the library, which packed 200 people into its downstairs auditorium for the screening, let 20 people watch it outside the theater — and turned about 100 more away.

The film, which deals with issues around race and class as well as public and private education, was a perfect storm of hot-button issues for Brooklynites.

“It struck a nerve in a way we didn’t anticipate,” Walters said.

Director Andre Robert Lee, who was selected to attend the prestigious Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia and given a full scholarship in the 1983 — the yearly tuition was more than his mother’s annual salary, he notes — says he made the film to tell the story of black kids who attend prep schools, and to depict the challenges they face both at these schools and at home.

“As soon as I set foot in the school, I started to go a separate direction from my family,” says Lee, in a trailer for the movie.

Lee says he showed a short version of the documentary — which he is currently expanding to full-length in the hopes of qualifying for the Oscars — for two of Brooklyn’s most well-known preps Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights and Brooklyn Friends School in Downtown.

He says private schools like these all over the country share unresolved racial and social tensions.

“We hit this stride saying we’re post-racial, we have a black president and therefore there are no more race problems, and that’s total malarkey,” said Lee. “It’s hard to talk about race and it’s hard to talk about class. I open up the door and say let’s get going.”

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Lee.

“Prep School Negro,” at the Central Library’s Dweck Center [10 Grand Army Plaza between Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 230–2100, www.bklynpubliclibrary.org]. Feb. 16, 4 pm, free.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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