‘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
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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