We got a chance to interview the creator of Netflix’s ‘Dear White People’, Justin Simien, along side stars Brandon P. Bell and Logan Browning.
Dear White People tells the story of four college students trying to navigate life while attending school a predominately white Ivy League institution. The award winning film from which the TV show has been adapted is a blend of comedy and drama that displays the realities students often deal with on a daily basis. Simien has found a way to expand the story line into ten 30 minute episodes that will go deeper into the backstories and lives of the characters in the film. The new Netflix TV series will be airing this month, on April 28th. Our very own OJ Williams had the chance to sit down with Simien and some cast members – Logan Browning who plays Sam on the show and Brandon P. Bell, who plays Troy. Watch that interview below:
OJ: Dear White People back on Netflix, how did that happen?
JS: I don’t know, a lot of white people asked for it and we just gave it to them. The movie is a multi-protagonist story, it lends itself to a TV show. We’re dealing with all these different characters and points of views, but you only have an hour and 45 minutes. I was dying to get into these other stories and these other characters that maybe have a line in the movie, but in my mind, they’re like fully fleshed out characters with backstories. I was just dying to get back into it. So, you know, Lionsgate and I talked. They bought the film and they have rights to the TV show, I proposed what I thought it could be and we took it out and people were really excited about it. I couldn’t be happier to be at Netflix, I mean one of the things that is to me really cool about the show is that we got a chance to really change the format of a dramedy. You know, this is not a show that can air week to week. I really crafted it as a single piece that’s just cut up into chapters and really took advantage of this thing where you kind of sit down and you watch maybe 3 episodes at a time or 4 and create a show that you couldn’t stop watching. That really was exciting for me, to push the medium into a different space.
OJ: I’m sure you guys can all speak to this, has anything ever materialized, where you’re like ‘oh my gosh white people think it’s okay, are white people gonna be offended by this one?’ Has there ever been a line where you’re like ‘uh, are you sure about this one’?
JS: I mean, the biggest one is the title I think. I get asked that all the time, there’s a lot of people who have a knee-jerk reaction to the title. I grew up idolizing Stanley Kubrick and Spike Lee and that sort of tradition where if you’re doing the job right, if you’re telling the truth in your art. It’s going to be a little divisive and it’s gonna be controversial. I think that there’s a risk that people will be put off by any number of things in the show, but my job as an artist is not to sort of coddle people, my job as an artist is to just tell the truth as I see it and I really believe that we’ve made a show where just about anybody can see themselves in these characters, no matter where you stand on the ideological spectrum. I think no matter where you are, if you’re a black person who’s woke as hell or a Trump voter, you’re gonna be challenged by the show. Everyone’s gonna be challenged by the show because if you’re telling the truth about people and the human condition, it’s going to mess you up. To me, that’s the greatest thing about art. Do The Right Thing is a great example, I think black people and white people alike at the end of that movie were like wait, what was the right thing? what should I be doing? That’s what good art is supposed to do, it’s supposed to push us and challenge us.
OJ: Logan, you’ve taken over for Tessa, were you at all intimidated? She did such a great job the first time around. Were you nervous at all going into the project?
LB: Yes to all, she did set the bar high. She also gave me a blueprint just by giving her greatest self in her performance. I was able to absorb who Sam is through her eyes and then take Sam for my own, which I had to do in order to not be nervous. I was very nervous when we started because its not easy to take on someone else’s role, but like theatre, anytime someone has performed a role before you, you still have to get on stage and do your own performance. I enjoyed that nervous process and getting over it. The encouragement I got from Justin was to just be myself and not try to continue to look to him to appease him but to just trust my own instincts.
OJ: Were you surprised when you got the call back to do the Dear White People TV Show?
BB: Not necessarily, Justin’s idea was always huge in terms of expanding that universe of Dear White People. It was more exciting than anything to rejoin and see where Troy’s journey would go, but also what ideas Justin had for expanding the other characters and also the story. In terms of these young people navigating who they are in a predominantly white institution.