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Justin Simien on Bringing ‘Dear White People’ from Film to TV.

By Flora  /  27 Apr 2017 (Thursday)

This isn’t the first time director Justin Simien receives a slew of backlash for naming his projects “Dear White People”. First, when he premiered the film in 2014 at the Sundance Film Festival and recently, for his 10-episodic series for Netflix.

Dear White People is an American satirical comedy-drama that focuses on the racial tensions at a prestigious Ivy League college, from the perspective of several African American students. While writer/director Simien is aware of the vitriol circulating around the show - which premieres on Netflix tomorrow - he didn’t expect the extent of the uproar when the announcement trailer debuted earlier this year. 

InCinemas had the opportunity to speak with Simien, Logan Browning and Brandon Bell (who plays Samantha White and Troy Fairbanks respectively) at a Netflix event in New York, a day after the aforementioned trailer was released. 

“I experienced it (backlash) with the film already so I guess I was ready for it, but I didn’t know like the sheer unbound of it,” said Simien. 

“There was a campaign that was mounted to sort of dislike the trailer or stuff but yet, half a million people watched it! It sort of depends on which bubble you are at I guess, whether a not it’s (considered) successful.”

He added: “One of the aspects of the show is how are we going to get our message across in a device world like this, when everyone is sort of screaming into their own silo. And that was one of the main things the show satirises… so we literally show it happen just by putting a date announcement (online).”

Photo Credit: The Xavier Herald

Many people slammed the trailer for being ‘racist’, with many subscribers threatening to cancel their subscriptions. But for Simien, he believes that his work speaks for itself. 

“I’m not the first person to have a provocative title that is slightly different from what the movie or TV show is about, but ultimately, it is the character Samantha who has a radio show called Dear White People,” said the 33-year-old filmmaker.

“Some people think it’s racist, some people think it’s spot on, some people think it’s irrelevant. Ultimately, Sam and her radio show is really about the spark that starts the drama. I’ll be honest. I thought about it a lot if I should have called it “Dear White People” or should I have called it something else. And time and time again, the title of the show even with both sides on it, really proves a meta point that the show is trying to prove in the first place. And I feel as an artist, if you’re not divisive, you might not be telling the truth of your work.”

The series picks up where the 2014 film leaves off. With a longer runtime to work with this time round, Simien was able to introduce a few new characters to the narrative. “There were many other people in my head who were fully fledged-out characters but were cut because we had to condense it into the film. But now they have names, lines and story arcs!”

“It was just a thrill because I have a lot of stories and characters that I was like, ‘Oh, I wished I could put that in the movie’ and now, I have a canvas to show it. There were a lot of moments throughout the season where I wanted to do before; or little seedlings of ideas that I didn’t get to develop, were fleshed out for the series… so it was really satisfying getting all that out.”

Dear White People streams on Netflix from 28 April 2017!
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