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“Dear white people: It’s OK to laugh,” said director Justin Simien at Wednesday night’s Los Angeles premiere of the provocative film Dear White People.
The feature debut from L.A.-based director, writer and producer Simien explores racial identity in a “post-racial” America, staring Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris and Brandon Bell.
Simien follows a group of African-American students as they navigate campus life and racial politics at a predominantly white college — a topic not far removed from his own college experiences when he wrote the first draft back in 2006.
“The original draft of the movie was an anecdotal, sort of episodic, thinly veiled version of my college experience, and as I grew up and figured out how to write these sort of multi-protagonist screenplays, I feel like I had to talk more about the current black experience in America, felt like we had to tackle some issues with a little more bite,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Producer Lena Waithe told THR that Simien has a natural way of moving the needle. “I had to be a part of this because it was so visceral and it was so relatable. He was saying the things we all have thought but didn’t really know how to articulate, and so I just knew he was a genius boy, so I said lets do it.”
Back in 2012, Simien launched a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo to raise $25,000 for the film and exceeded his goal with more than $40,000 instead. The film has since gone on to win awards both at the Tribeca Film Festival and Sundance.
Thompson stars as biracial film student/activist Samantha White, who hosts a campus radio show also called Dear White People. The actress told THR she had never encountered a script like this before. “I think when you work in film and you do a lot of things, you’re just excited to have an emerging voice that feels fresh and interesting and is pushing boundaries and breaking rules about genre, and that’s what I feel Justin Siemien does in this film,” she said.
The screening was followed by a Q&A with the cast and producers. It hits theaters on Oct. 17.
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