Starting at the Sundance Film Festival, “Dear White People” director Justin Simien spent most of the year promoting the comedy-drama on the festival circuit — where he’s still amazed over the diversity of reactions the film evokes.
“What still blows me away is that people see themselves in the movie,” he admiits.“It gets very different reactions from a black crowd, a white crowd and a mixed crowd.”
Lionsgate opens the film in the U.S. on Friday.
His most memorable reaction? “By far, my favorite reaction was from a woman in Atlanta who told me after the Q and A that she was outraged by Coco for three-quarters of the movie and then realized that she WAS Coco. It blew her mind.”
The character, played by Teyonah Parris, rebels against her race, dating white men and perpetually straightening her hair.
His favorite scene? When the character Samantha White presents her confrontational class project titled “Rebirth of a Nation.”
Simien noted that the project, set on an Ivy League campus and dealing with racial issues, dated back nearly a decade when he wrote a screenplay called “The 2 Percent” with 14 characters. “It was very Altmanesque,” he adds
Simien also insisted that the racial themes aren’t the ultimate driver of the film’s message. “The conflict of who you are and who you show to the world — that’s a universal situation.”
Simien also says the film evokes an emotional response from him — even at this point. “Parts are rough for me because I’m one of those guys who would still be editing if you let me,” he notes.