‘Dear White People’ Tackles Identity Issues

Filmmaker Justin Simien satirizes the awkwardness of blacks who are not black enough.

From the film Dear White People

TR: What was your character development process like?

JS: There was always [characters like] a Sam, a Coco, a Troy and a Lionel ever since I started writing the script in 2005. It’s really hard for me as a writer to really talk about any major topics, such as identity, from one point of view. So, I love ensemble movies — Do the Right Thing, Election, The Royal Tenenbaums and Insane. Those movies are such an inspiration to me because you see this one thing dissected from all these different points of [view]. Sam, her voice was definitely developed through the Twitter account @DearWhitePeople; that’s where I really honed her in a little bit as a funny, Angela-Davis-Malcolm X-Huey-Lisa-Bonet-type of amalgamation [laughs]. The other characters were culled from people I knew and experiences that I had personally.

TR: How has the film changed since you wrote it in 2005?

JS: When I first started writing it, I was fresh out of film school. I don’t think I was a strong enough writer to write a script like this. At the time, it was called Two Percent … and it was just a series of episodes. Myself and the other producers all met in writers’ groups where I was working on some version of it. That’s where we all became friends and decided to do this project together. It really wasn’t until two years ago when I felt a sense of urgency about it all of a sudden. We then took it to a workshop and did it with actors — that was such a profound moment because I think we all heard it for the first time and were like, “Wow, this is the movie, this is a real story and it works.”

Jade O. Earle is an editorial intern at The Root. 

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