Alumni ‘No Whites Allowed’ documentary exposes Emerson’s lack of diversity

Evan McDonald ’18 joined comedy troupe Emerson Comedy Workshop in January 2016 as the first black man to ever join in its 40 years of existence. After acknowledging the lack of inclusion in comedy troupes at Emerson, McDonald said he needed to create a space for comedians of color.

In fall 2016, McDonald started the first of four open-mic shows with friend Nako Narter ’18 to create a space for students of color to perform stand-up comedy and hip-hop music at Emerson. When it came time to name the show, McDonald said he thought of the “perfect” name: No Whites Allowed.

“The show was never made to alienate anybody,” McDonald said. “It was made to allow certain people to get a space that they never had before. And the title of the show played on the rhetoric of ‘no colored allowed.’”

A year later, while studying at Emerson Los Angeles, McDonald decided he wanted to turn the show into something bigger. He reached out to Jeru Berry ’18, the founder and president of Hyyer, a student organization at Emerson for men of color. Together, they began working on No Whites Allowed—the documentary.

“At the end of the night it just felt like taking it one step further as far as helping these students of color to be able to give them footage of actual sets they requested, so they can use it to get booked elsewhere and work on their comedy,” Berry said. “So for us it was just about taking it to another level— actually getting some cameras in there and actually record the whole show.”

When McDonald returned to Boston in spring 2018, he and Berry started producing the film and completed it right before their graduation in May 2018, and the submission deadline for the Emerson Film Festival in the fall.

Berry said they initially planned to focus the documentary on the comedians of the show but realized several interviews revealed a bigger story.

“I think it was something that we didn’t even realize until we started doing the documentary,” Berry said. “This show was much bigger than just a comedy show. This was a form of protest. And we got to not only be a part of that but now we’re getting to tell the story.”

The 30-minute-long documentary, the longest film displayed at the festival, addresses the lack of diversity and inclusion for people of color at Emerson through interviews with students and faculty.

“We did a shit ton of research just looking for footage because part of the documentary that we were also trying to highlight is the things that these students of color have been complaining about,” Berry said. “They’ve been complaining about [these things] for 40 years.”

In fall 2018, 4 percent of students admitted to Emerson were African-American and 16 percent were Hispanic. Fifty-six percent of students admitted were Caucasian. Interviewees in the documentary explained that the lack of diversity in the history and language classes offered at the college—only French and Spanish—reflect these numbers.

Besides students, McDonald and Berry also interviewed President M. Lee Pelton, Hyyer Faculty Advisor Chris Grant, and Director of the Office of Intercultural Student Affairs Tamia Jordan.

“At the end of the day, in the documentary, it’s all people of color and I think that’s powerful,” McDonald said. “I mean, I’m sorry, but do we really want to hear about what white people have to say about something that was made for black people and people of color?”

McDonald said the budget for the locally shot documentary was $1,500. An “angel investor,” who McDonald declined to name, donated the funds.  He said he used most of the money to cover transportation expenses, post-production costs, and any equipment they were unable to get from the Equipment Distribution Center.

Berry said he knew he wanted to submit No Whites Allowed to the Emerson Film Festival from the moment he started the documentary. Last January, Berry and McDonald learned the judges for the festival selected their film to be featured in the 2019 festival.

“I like freaked out,” Berry said. “I called my mom: ‘I just got into my first film festival! We made it, we made it, this is going to be incredible.’ I was just very excited because I knew in watching the documentary for probably the 60th time that we had seen it, that this was a good fucking documentary.”

No Whites Allowed screened at the Bright Family Screening Room on March 24 alongside 14 other selected films and won the Audience Award after earning the most votes from the audience.

After watching the 15 films, Lesley University student Alina Balseiro said they voted for No Whites Allowed. Balseiro said they came from a very diverse high school in New Jersey and noticed a difference when moving to Boston.

“It made you feel very comfortable in what you were seeing and advocating for by watching it,” Balseiro said. “I really appreciated how they weren’t afraid to just be blatantly honest about the topics that we should be making people uncomfortable about.”

Now living together in Los Angeles, Berry and McDonald said they’re bringing the No Whites Allowed show to the West Coast in a significant way soon, but for now, that is under wraps.

Berry released No Whites Allowed on YouTube on March 29 for only a week. McDonald and Berry said they wanted to submit to festivals across the country and couldn’t keep the documentary up online after that week.

“I can tell you this right now, they’re not going to be admitting a whole bunch of new black students. That’s not happening anytime soon,” Berry said. “So my hope is that the students of color here can rally together and really create a presence and create some dope stuff because, at the end of the day, we’re reflections of our art. And I hope that more dope art comes from this school, and you can definitely expect more dope art coming from us.”

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