10 Directors to Watch: Justin Simien Puts ‘White People’ in Perspective

Premiering at Sundance, 'Dear White People' expands upon Justin Simien's satirical Twitter handle

“Remember when black movies didn’t necessarily star a dude in a fat suit and a wig?”

With that pointed query, Justin Simien kicked off his successful Indiegogo crowd-funding push for his debut feature, “Dear White People,” in June 2012. He immediately hit a nerve: His witty concept trailer went viral and soon the filmmaker, whose publicity skills were sharpened in the marketing offices of Focus and Paramount, was responding to the buzz on CNN. Now he’s headed to Sundance.

The Texas-born filmmaker may mock Tyler Perry movies, but he insists he doesn’t intend “to throw shade at fellow black filmmakers,” as much as push back against studio executives with limited imaginations: “Films with predominantly white casts can come in any form, tell any story, big or small. For black films, you have the light fluffy rom-coms or Madea movies and then you have the black torture awards movie.”

He’s quick to add, “I love ‘12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Fruitvale (Station),’ but I’m annoyed that the only versions of a black film that’s artful have to be these gut-wrenching, historical stories about us suffering, or stories about inner-city kids with horrible problems like gun violence. They’re all morality plays, and what’s gotten lost is a story that is complex, that asks questions like a ‘Do the Right Thing.’ ”

Simien’s ensemble satire, set on a fictional Ivy League campus, follows a black college radio host who offers frank advice (“Dear white people, please stop touching my hair”) and questions plans for an on-campus race-themed costume party.

Simien, who’s also producing the half-hour comedy “Twenties” with his collaborator Lena Waithe, says it was difficult to coax money out of producers until Code Red Films stepped in, not because the film is so controversial, but because there have been so few comparable satires starring black actors.

“Studios liked the script, but said they had no model for it — and they didn’t,” Simien says, laughing. “ ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘Hollywood Shuffle’ were in the 1980s!”

› Age: 30
› Home base: Los Angeles
› Agent: Charles King (WME)
› Manager: Benjamin Rowe (Oasis Media Group)
› Lawyer: Gordon Bobb (Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano)

More Film

  • Stuber

    ‘Stuber’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Twentieth Century Fox claims the top spot in spending with “Stuber.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.91 million through Sunday for 1,325 national ad airings on 42 networks. [...]

  • BTS - J-Hope, V, Jungkook, Jimin,

    BTS' 'Bring the Soul: The Movie' Gets Global Theatrical Release

    BTS will be back on the big screen this summer. The Korean pop group announced today that their latest feature film, “Bring the Soul: The Movie,” will have a global release on August 7. It arrives just six and a half months after the septet’s last film release, “Love Yourself in Seoul.” “Bring the Soul” [...]

  • Box Office: 'Yesterday' Movie Takes on

    Box Office: 'Annabelle Comes Home' and 'Yesterday' Take on 'Toy Story 4'

    The weekend box office has gone to the dolls. “Annabelle Comes Home,” a supernatural horror film about a possessed toy, is facing off against another band of plastic figurines: “Toy Story 4.” Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” is expected to dominate box office charts again over newcomers “Annabelle Comes Home” and “Yesterday,” a fantasy musical set [...]

  • 'The Current War' Trailer: Benedict Cumberbatch,

    Benedict Cumberbatch and Nicholas Hoult Feud in 'The Current War' Trailer (Watch)

    101 Studios has released an official new trailer for the Martin Scorcese-produced thriller, “The Current War,”  offering a glimpse into the dramatic 19th century battle over electricity that became known as the “war of the currents.” The film, which is a dramatization of real-life events, will follow the tumultuous journey of Thomas Edison, played by [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Oscars: 31 Upcoming Films That Could Enter the Awards Race

    The year reaches the halfway mark on June 30, and traditionally films from the first six months have an uphill battle in the Oscar race. However, this year’s January-June crop might get a boost from the accelerated schedule: Nominations voting is a tight Jan. 2-Jan. 7, 2020. So if voters start their homework now, early [...]

  • Yesterday Movie Danny Boyle

    Danny Boyle on 'Yesterday,' Leaving 'Bond 25' and Why the Beatles Still Rock

    Danny Boyle would like to reintroduce you to the Beatles. The iconic foursome certainly needs no introduction, but in his movie “Yesterday,” which debuts June 28, the director envisions a word where nobody has heard of John, Paul, George and Ringo. That is, nobody besides Jack Malik. When the struggling songwriter, portrayed by newcomer Himesh [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content