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‘Dear White People,’ It’s OK to Laugh, Says Director Justin Simien at L.A. Film Festival

Wednesday’s Los Angeles premiere of “Dear White People” evoked a mix of raucous laughter and uncomfortable silences on the next-to-last night of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

The screening at L.A. Live’s Regal, five months after the comedy-drama’s Sundance debut, prompted director-writer Justin Simien to offer guidance to the audience from festival director Stephanie Allain — who’s also an exec producer on the movie.

“She said that I should tell the white people that it’s OK to laugh,” he said in his intro. “‘It has been such a joy to see people connect with this film.”

Simien and Elvis Mitchell led a spirited Q-and-A after the screening with cast members Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Brandon Bell and Marque Richardson. Simien noted that the project, set on an Ivy League campus and dealing with racial issues, dated back nearly a decade.

“I originally wrote a screenplay in 2006 called ‘The 2 Percent’ with 14 characters,” he mused. “It was very Altmanesque.”

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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.”

He also insisted on a round of applause for Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions for having the “balls” to acquire distribution.

At the after-party, attendees saluted producer Effie Brown, who recalled that the filming was a sprint with just two weeks of prep followed by 20 days of shooting at the University of Minnesota late last summer. “We got the financing on Feb. 14 and we wanted to have it for Sundance so we moved really fast,” she added.

A beaming Allain said the festival, now in its 20th year, made the right choice to relocate to downtown in 2010.

“Dear White People” will open Oct. 17.

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