Starring Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, Antoinette Robertson, DeRon Horton, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson and Marque Richardson, Simien’s thought-provoking satire follows a group of college students on a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League campus as they’re faced with navigating through racially charged social situations.
Simien, who serves as the series creator and executive producer, even tapped Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins to direct episode 5 of the show.
Picking up where its theatrical predecessor left off, Simien tells HuffPost that the series was created out of his desire to further expand the narrative of several unused versions of the film’s script and characters.
“I wanted people who saw themselves in these characters to get a chance to know them better,” he said during an interview with HuffPost. “Instead of an hour and 40 minutes, I got five hours to tell the story of these kids. Thirty minutes at a time, you really get to know these people. It was very intentional that each episode is specifically from a different character’s point of view. There is no lead of the show. And I can only do that on TV.”
Leading up to its Friday premiere, the series faced scrutiny from some viewers who deemed the show “anti-white” and “racist” after a 30-second teaser clip was released in February. The backlash eventually spawned the creation of the social media campaign #BoycottNetflix, encouraging others to cancel their Netflix subscription.
Simien says the negative reception of the teaser trailer actually benefited promotion of the show. The original 2014 film opened in theaters to rave reviews and received accolades from Sundance. Simien also won the 2015 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.
During his acceptance speech at the 30th annual ceremony, Simien called for more diversity in storytelling ― a plea which has since been echoed by other black filmmakers including Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins, who have often emphasized the power of stories centered around the black experience.
While Simien says he has seen a significant improvement in the amount of stories revolving around black characters on television, he argued that there’s still more obstacles that black filmmakers face in Hollywood.
“It’s still very difficult to get black things made, or just things in general with black people in them and from black storytellers, but in TV it’s great,” he said.
“There’s several shows on the air now about black people in their 20s to 30s, and none of them in any way, shape or form are the same show,” he added. “And that’s really exciting because when you see us in all of these different forms it starts to dawn on people who don’t maybe have an experience with black people: ‘You know what, we’re human beings.’ There is no such thing as a ‘black show.’”
The Houston native said that the lack of black stories highlighted in television and film has contributed to racism in America.
Glad you’ve woken up. Welcome to the revolution." Justin Simien's message to white viewers of 'Dear White People'
“There are a plethora of ways of being black, just like there’s many ways to being white,” he added. “And I think not being seen as fully formed human beings is a big part of the problem with racism in this country.”
Simien, who strives to promote equality and unity through his work, has a specific message for white viewers who tune into the show: “Glad you’ve woken up. Welcome to the revolution.”
“And I would say, just be open. Because you don’t have this experience and we’re not crying wolf,” he added. “There is a difference between being offended and being prejudice and even being bigoted against. There’s a difference between that and racism. Black people are experiencing a systemic disadvantage and it goes back to slavery, which was not that long ago.”
“There are people who are the direct children of slaves who are still alive today,” he continued. “And I would say, be open to going past what you think racism is. And listen, if you don’t want another Donald Trump to happen, you gotta work with us to solve the problem. You gotta work with us to figure out how that happened and how we can change it.”
“Dear White People” is now available on Netflix.