Justin Simien

Justin Simien is a writer and director to watch out for in the next decade! His breakthrough film, “Dear White People,” came onto the scene and made space for black voices, unapologetically. His Netflix series of the same name is in its third season and is streaming now. Justin Simien joins us to talk about his experience navigating college life as a black queer kid, and how that experience helped shape some of the characters on “Dear White People.” Plus, we’ll talk to Justin about his new horror movie that just wrapped as well as his self-described obsession with the genre of musicals.

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Photo: Jesse Thorn

Justin Simien on his hit show “Dear White People”

Director Justin Simien is the creator of the controversially-titled film Dear White People. It was later developed into a Netflix television program, now in its third season. The film, as well as the series, follows the lives of a group of black college students attending a predominantly white and fictionalized Ivy League institution named Winchester University.

Both the movie and series tackle issues of racial tensions, identity, gender, sexuality and class in the modern era. Justin leaned heavily on his own experiences attending the predominantly white institution, Chapman University, to help shape his story. Dear White People puts a talented cast and diverse group of students in the spotlight. Students who share a similar experience in the black diaspora while remaining vividly individual characters with oft-sidelined points of view. It’s a story Justin knows well.

Justin grew up in Houston, Texas where he attended a performing arts program in high school. The love for film became a part of his life early on. From there, Justin attended college, a part of the first generation of “Facebook adults.” There he grew even more passionate about his craft and steadfast in his vision of centering the voices of black and brown young people of color. That vision began to materialize in the late-aughts with a concept trailer he bankrolled with his own tax return. Momentum and interest grew from there and in 2014 Dear White People was released independently but not before taking home the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. Not bad for a feature film debut!

Jesse talks with Justin Simien about the intersections of the black experience, having a majority black-femme writers room and the value in meeting people where they are. Plus, Jesse and Justin discuss the impact French new wave had on the film Do The Right Thing, giving a voice to queer black experiences, late 90s cinema and why calling white people “White People” makes folks uncomfortable.

Dear White People is streaming now on Netflix.

In this episode...

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Associate Producer
Maximum Fun Production Fellow
Maximum Fun Production Fellow

Guests

  • Justin Simien

About the show

Bullseye is a celebration of the best of arts and culture in public radio form. Host Jesse Thorn sifts the wheat from the chaff to bring you in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary minds in our culture.

Bullseye has been featured in Time, The New York Times, GQ and McSweeney’s, which called it “the kind of show people listen to in a more perfect world.” Since April 2013, the show has been distributed by NPR.

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Producer

Associate Producer

Maximum Fun Production Fellow

Maximum Fun Production Fellow

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