“They let me make a TV show! What’s up with that?!” Justin Simien exclaimed as he introduced his “Dear White People” Monday at the SXSW festival, which marked the world premiere for his Netflix series.
Based on his film of the same name, which made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014, “Dear White People” might be one of the timeliest shows to begin streaming this year — but Simien, who penned all 10 episodes and directs the pilot, couldn’t have fathomed his show would be hitting during such a political climate.
“We wrapped production on November 8, on the day of the election,” Simien shared during the show’s panel Monday at SXSW, where Variety was present. “We came into that day like, ‘Oh my god, this is so exciting, it’s our final day, we’re going to have a female prez!'” He continued, “Once I got out of bed — like a couple days later — I was just so f—king proud that we had a clap-back ready…We commented on the world that we are living on before we even knew.”
“Dear White People” follows a group of black students experiencing campus life at an Ivy League university dominated by white students. Each of the 10 episodes tells the story from a different character’s point of view, with only one of the key characters being white and involved in an interracial relationship, which is explored in the first episode.
When the first trailer launched for the Netflix show, Twitter went into an uproar, with some saying the show was anti-white. However, on the panel, Simien said the show is universal.
“Yes, it’s the black experience, but if I’m doing my job right, you should be able to see yourself in these people,” Simien said. “For me, as a storyteller, it’s of the utmost importance.”
In order to achieve a voice of authentic diversity, Simien stacked the writers room with scribes from all backgrounds. “We wanted people in that room from every possible thought,” he said. “It was important to have a female perspective, it was important to have black people, it was important to have white people.”
Two episodes of “Dear White People” were screened at SXSW, and Simien said that the fifth episode, directed by “Moonlight” Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins, is the “turning point.” Read Variety‘s review of the series here.