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‘Dear White People’ Team Talks Art as Activism at Netflix FYSee Event

After the first season of “Dear White People,” creator Justin Simien and his writers saw a lot of negative comments on social media that took umbrage at the show and its title. But he always intended for the show (and its title) to be an invitation into the conversation. And thankfully, he and his cast said at the Netflix FYSee event for his series in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wednesday, the response to the second season has embraced the intention.

“I think the trolls on Twitter had a few other things to do,” Simien only half-joked.

“It gave a prime example of why the show was so needed and so relevant,” series star Logan Browning added. “I think Justin did a great job of bringing things we experienced in every day life to the screen with Sam constantly on her laptop and the instant gratification of getting those likes.”

But even more seriously, Simien shared that in season 2 the writers were aiming for every single episode to “scare” them in some way — to be in the writers’ room with “clenched body parts” because they were diving into complicated territory.

And dive they did. Season 2 covered everything from the alt-right response to Sam’s (Browning) radio show and personal racial makeup, to LGBTQ relationships, to the PTSD after an almost shooting, to the death of a parent, to abortion.

When it came to representing the LGBTQ community, DeRon Horton shared that he is a big fan of “truth and honesty in acting” and unfortunately feels that “a lot of times the community is misrepresented on television and social media.” So although he finds his character of Lionel very different from himself personally, it has been a “gift” to play because he’s not a stereotype.

On the subject of the abortion storyline, series star Antoinette Robertson noted it was a chance to show both sides of an issue and therefore not preach any one way but, again, be a part of an important conversation.

“We need to have conversations about women’s health within the community — and to be perfectly honest, I feel like women across the world should be able to make their own choices with respect to their bodies,” she said.

Held at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles, Calif. where Netflix has taken over a stage for the FYC campaign season, the “Dear White People” event included Simien and stars Browning, Horton, Robertson, Brandon P. Bell, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson and Marque Richardson. It was moderated by BET’s Robin Thede, who noted the importance of “Dear White People” goes beyond being funny — it has something to say, as well.

“We don’t get many shots,” Thede said. “I think you feel the weight of not messing that up.”

Simien said he did: “It’s not just about bringing the stories to the culture because they belong there, although that’s very important. …I love cinema with my whole body. This cast loves acting — loves the craft of acting with everything they have. The writers are the best in the universe. …Each person brings so much to the show, that I think the not f—ing it up part, what you’re feeling is love. We try to create an environment where everyone can come to work and it’s about the work — the drama is [just] on the screen.”

The level of detail is not just something the writers and actors pay deep attention to, but Simien pointed out everyone from the wardrobe department to hair, makeup, and art as playing integral roles in their storytelling — especially when it comes to the color schemes of the show.

“In the early reformation period, we kept running into the same colors. It was in all of the posters that they made to recruit black soldiers — particularly to fight for the white people who were fighting over the land. What we found was red, white and blue, of course, but there was also brown people who were always shorter than the white man in the frame,” Simien noted. “And there was always a little bit of gold — because it was always about gold — and lots of green — green that these brown men and women had to toil over to produce these crops that they could never own.”

Simien shared that they very purposely took all of those colors and extrapolated them over the season. “When you see gold or green in particular, they’re actually very rare colors,” he said. “All of that is about our color story. We wanted to subtly introduce some of these ideas. What I wanted it to do was for you to feel like something else is going on in the image that you can’t quite put your finger on and maybe the next time you see one of these reformation posters, maybe something else sparks in your brain.”

And the work has enriched the actors lives, as well as its audience’s lives. Richardson specifically noted that the show has inspired him to be as “true and authentic” as possible.

“It shined a light on what I want to get done while I’m here,” he said. “This is a platform to make art our activism in a way and especially in these times it should be activism. It’s our duty.”

“Dear White People Vol. 2” is available to stream on Netflix.

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