Justin Simien, the writer and director behind Dear White People, won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. The film is a social comedy about four black students at a fictitious Ivy League school, where a predominantly white group throws a racist theme party. It was one of the most buzzed-about movies at Sundance, with posters of the four black stars plastered all over Park City.
Simien told The Root, “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment as best I can.” He also said he wanted to show how a black story isn’t “necessarily a street story or a hip-hop story or something that was gritty. It could be told with an artful, sort of punky, filmy touch.”
As of the closing weekend of the festival, none of the feature films by black directors that won awards had distribution deals. That’s not stopping director and writer Janicza Bravo from forging ahead with her own feature film. Bravo’s 17-minute short, Gregory Go Boom, won the Short Film Jury Prize for U.S. Fiction. She told The Root that she is setting aside another short to work on her feature-length film.
“Winning makes me feel like I made the right choice; it gave me validation,” she said. Two things set her apart from the three other black directors who won. Not only is she a woman, but her film is about a white protagonist (played by Michael Cera) who discovers that life is not what it seems when he leaves home.
“If the feature doesn’t come to fruition this year, it’s OK because I have the win in my back pocket. It’s taken a while to get here.”
Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.