×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Look Inside The World of ‘Dear White People’s’ Justin Simien

The first time Justin Simien saw his favorite film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he didn’t really enjoy it. “I was too young to get it,” Simien told Variety. “I thought it was going to be like ‘Star Wars,’ or something. I remember being in college and feeling like a filmmaker failure because I never went back and revisited ‘2001.’” But now, the “Dear White People” creator’s Los Angeles home is dotted with books dedicated to the science fiction classic. So what changed?

“I took a philosophy course and without explanation, at the end of the course, the professor played ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ And I got it.” Simien continued, “I realized [Kubrick was] saying so many fundamental truths about the human condition, but purely through visuals. He was just waiting for me to get it. It was the only religious experience I can say I’ve had watching a movie.”

The experience taught Simien a lesson in intent. “It’s the difference between doing something great and doing something important,” he says. Variety witnessed the purpose driving Simien as we followed him for the “That’s Life” docuseries.

After years behind the scenes as a publicist for studios such as Sony and Paramount, Simien got his big break after his debut film “Dear White People” won the special jury prize at Sundance. That indie would eventually become a Netflix series starring Logan Browning, DeRon Horton, Brandon P. Bell, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori and Marque Richardson. 

The first season garnered critical acclaim due to its storytelling and a particularly chilling episode directed by Oscar-winner Barry Jenkins. Naturally, the second season had a lot to live up to.

When we came [back] into the writer’s room we said ‘We have to top ourselves. We have to go further. We have to go deeper.’” The new episodes focus on secrecy, illustrated in one storyline via online fighting with anonymous trolls that unravels quickly into hate speech.

“This season is so much about how sick we are because of our secrets,” said Simien. “There’s a healing that comes with facing our truth, and facing our past. This country has so much truth and past, and so many secrets that we’ve got to really reconcile with.”

He hopes his audience can see his intent behind the episodes. Even internet trolls and Twitter wars. He sees a bigger problem brewing beneath it all, but he’s optimistic that “Dear White People” can spark that conversation that desperately needs to happen. 

“The reason why I think we are having such a divide over race is because we get these talking heads on TV, who spew rhetoric back and forth. We have people on Twitter yelling at each other. But there’s nobody saying, ‘No, wait. This is what this group of people is upset about. This is the historical context.’”

Special Thanks to Kris Bowers for use of his score from “Dear White People.”

More TV

  • Inbar Lavi, a cast member in

    TV News Roundup: 'Stumptown' Adds Inbar Lavi in Guest Role

    In today’s TV news roundup, Inbar Lavi has been cast in a recurring guest role on ABC’s “Stumptown” and CBS has announced two holiday primetime specials for “The Price is Right.”  CASTINGS Inbar Lavi has been cast in a recurring guest role on ABC’s “Stumptown.” Last seen on Netflix’s “Lucifer” as Eve, this new role [...]

  • Live+3 Ratings for Week of Nov.

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Nov. 11: 'This Is Us' Tops 'Masked Singer'

    First the first time in a while, “This Is Us” managed to top “The Masked Singer” in the Live+3 TV ratings. The NBC drama was the biggest grower of the week, jumping 80% from a 1.4 to a 2.5 after three days of delayed viewing, benefiting from a series low performance from the Fox singing [...]

  • Louie Anderson

    Louie Anderson to Star as Talking Cat in Comedy in the Works at Fox (EXCLUSIVE)

    Louie Anderson may have found the purr-fect role. Variety has learned exclusively that Anderson is set to star in and executive produce the multi-camera comedy “Tigsley” at Fox. The project has received a script commitment with a penalty attached. “Tigsley” is described as an adult comedy about a family dealing with life, love, the pursuit [...]

  • CENTRAL PARK FIVE

    How Spencer Averick Built Suspense Through Editing Ava DuVernay's 'When They See Us'

    For most of the “When They See Us” shoot, director Ava DuVernay worked with two or three cameras, but when it came to shooting the tense courtroom seen where Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise are put on trial, DuVernay shot with four cameras. Editor Spencer Averick says, “We needed [...]

  • Eliot Goldberg

    AMC Networks Unscripted Head Eliot Goldberg Steps Down

    Eliot Goldberg, AMC Networks’ executive vice president of nonfiction and alternative programming for AMC, Sundance TV and BBC America, is departing the company after six years. Marco Bresaz, senior vice president of nonfiction and alternative programming, will lead the nonfiction programming group going forward. Kelly Nash, who was recently promoted to vice president of nonfiction [...]

  • A LITLLE LATE WITH LILLY SINGH

    Lilly Singh Mocks Disney Plus 'Outdated Cultural Depictions' Warnings for Racist Movies

    Lilly Singh lampooned Disney Plus’ disclaimer that certain older movies include “outdated cultural depictions” on her NBC show. The YouTube and late-night TV comedian took issue with Disney’s euphemistic phrasing — pointing out that the warning is really about the “racist” tropes in decades-old movies that were made for kids. Disney Plus includes “a bunch [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content