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Netflix has handed out a straight-to-series order for a comedy based on his 2014 crowdfunded movie, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
The 10-episode, 30-minute project hails from Lionsgate Television and will, like the film, follow a diverse group of students of color as they navigate a predominantly white Ivy League college where racial tensions are often swept under the rug. The series is a send-up of “post-racial” America that also weaves a universal story about forging one’s own unique path.
Simien will write the series and direct the first episode. Devon Shepard (House of Lies, Weeds), Stephanie Allain Bray (Dear White People) and Julia Lebedev (Dear White People) will executive produce the series, which will begin production this year for a debut in 2017. It’s unclear if any of the movie’s original cast — including Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson and Dennis Haysbert — will return for the TV series.
“During the film’s release, I had the pleasure to speak with hundreds of students and faculty across a variety of college campuses dealing with these very issues in real time,” said Simien. “I’m so grateful to have this platform — not only to give a voice to those too often unheard in our culture, but to also tell great stories from new points of views. From Day 1, Lionsgate has been remarkably supportive of the vision for the show, and working with Netflix is every bit as harmonious as I’d imagined it would be. Bringing this show to such a vibrant platform is an honor I don’t take lightly.”
Simien used his tax refund to underwrite a concept trailer for the film, which was produced by Lionsgate corporate sibling Roadside Attractions. By 2014, the crowdfunded movie became a favorite at film festivals and went on to earn the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the Sundance Film Festival. It has grossed more than $4.4 million domestically.
“We’re proud to expand our partnership with our friends at Netflix on a comedy that tackles racial themes with a combination of intelligence, honesty, irreverence and wit,” said Lionsgate TV executive vp Chris Selak. “Our original film with Roadside Attractions catapulted Dear White People into the national conversation about race, and Justin and the rest of the creative team have an opportunity to expand this world and bring its timely and universal themes to a global television audience.”
Dear White People expands Lionsgate’s relationship with Netflix and joins Jenji Kohan’s awards-season staple Orange Is the New Black. The series comes as the streaming giant has committed to spending $5 billion this year on original programming. Netflix has been on a comedy tear in the past few months, with recent orders for Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later; Easy, a comedic anthology from mumblecore guru Joe Swanberg; Sophia Amoruso’s #Girlboss; sketch comedy The Characters; and Drew Barrymore-Timothy Olyphant starrer Santa Clarita Diet joining recently renewed The Ranch; Flaked; Aziz Ansari’s Master of None; Judd Apatow’s Love; Fuller House; Grace and Frankie; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and more.
Simien is repped by WME, Oasis Media Group and Del Shaw.