Justin Simien, director of Dear White People, stopped by Emerson on March 23 for a screening of his film, followed by a question-and-answer session with students. He also spoke with student journalists before the event in the Multipurpose Room of the Mutchnick Campus Center. (Photo by Nick Eaton '17)
Justin Simien, director of the film Dear White People, stopped by Emerson College on March 23 for a screening of his recently released film, described as a comedic and dramatic satire about being a black college student on a predominantly white campus.
After the screening, which was held in the Bright Family Screening Room of the Paramount Center, Simien held a question-and-answer session with the audience.
In an interview with student journalists before the screening, Simien said that Dear White People was not based on his personal college experience.
He said that for minorities it is common to feel that whatever or whomever you represent “isn’t reflected back in the culture.”
The conflict of identity through the lens of race is what Simien says makes up the heart of the story.
“There are ways in which all of us short change who we are to serve our identity, and there are ways in which we short change our identity to serve who we are,” he said.
Simien’s characters were all created with complex identities.
“Everyone should be able to see themselves in the film,” he said, more so than trying to take away a social lesson.
One of the identity issues that Simien said was important to address in the film was that of black gay men.
“Black, gay, and male just didn’t go together in the society that I grew up in and the culture that I’m still in,” Simien said. “I don’t see them together very often and if I do, the characters are so extreme…that even though I might be entertained by them, I don’t quite relate to them.”
Simien said that he really wanted to shine a light on what happens when black characters are combined with other forms of identity that he said typically “don’t go together.”
Due to the array of complex identity issues facing minority communities, Simien mentioned that his next project is to pitch a television show based on the movie. The director believes that the characters of his film would be explored more in depth through a season instead of a sequel.
Dear White People won the Special Jury Award for “Breakthrough Talent” at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Simien’s visit was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs; Office of Student Life; Visual and Media Arts Department; Career Services; Office of the President; and several student organizations, including Emerson Christian Fellowship, Amigos, ASIA, EBONI, Zeta Phi Eta, and Emerson Peace and Social Justice.