Justin Simien’s Sundance-awarded campus comedy “Dear White People” has made a real buzz at Stockholm, with screening sold out and additional screenings added during festival’s last weekend. Since its U.S. release last month through Roadside Attractions, the film has earned more than $3 million. Pic is also about to be sold to Scandinavian territory.
Variety’s Jon Asp chatted with the director during the fest in the Swedish capital.
Variety: How has a year with the film been like, from Sundance till now?
Simien: It’s been enlightening and profound to say the least watching this film with so many different audiences. I’m so happy and grateful the response has been both
enthusiastic and thoughtful on the whole.
Variety: Could you foresee all this attention?
Simien: Since American filmmakers, particular ones dealing with racial subject matter, are oftentimes told by industry “experts” their films won’t travel or play well
outside the U.S., I can’t say that I did. I am incredibly humbled by it.
Variety: The character of Samantha White uses “Dear White People” to call out hypocrisies. How much is she a voice of the director?
Simien: She’s as much a part of my unconscious I suppose as any character I write. She is not a mouthpiece, however, for me and like the other characters in the film, there are things she says and does that I agree with and things that I do not.
Variety: “As smart and fearless a debut as I have seen from an American filmmaker
in quite some time,” wrote New York Times about the movie. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
Simien: I am naturally inclined to overlook and minimize praise and focus instead on
negative criticisms. One of the things this experience is teaching me is to trust and celebrate the grand moments in life.
Variety: Any specific sources of inspiration, in movies or books?
Simien: In terms of the psychology behind the film, I turned to a few books, especially “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness” by Toure and “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” by Beverly Daniel Tatum. In terms of the visual aesthetic of the film, there were a few that were touchstones. “Barry Lyndon”
and “Paths of Glory” by Stanley Kubrick. “Persona” by Ingmar Bergman. Metropolis” by Fritz Lang and “Do the Right Thing” by Spike Lee.
Variety: What’s up next?
Simien: Another film I hope! I’m currently writing something and am considering a number of projects within Hollywood.