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.
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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.
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