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Justin Simien: creator of Dear White People

MIKE McGEE | 11/9/2014, 8:58 p.m. | Updated on 11/9/2014, 11:16 p.m.
Justin Simien, 31, is a Houston native and movie fan who finds direction and inspiration from directors like Stanley Kubrick ...

One of many human experiences explored is the influence that fathers and sons have in one another’s lives. The honor, expectations and conflicts between dorm president Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) and his father, the dean of Winchester (Dennis Haysbert) are expressed frequently in the upcoming film. Directing an actor as notable as Haysbert led to another human experience for Simien: intimidation.

“Yeah, for sure, because he didn’t know me from Adam; he just really liked the script. He was giving this first time director a shot,” Simien said with an excited, awkward honesty born of admiration. “When he got on set, it took a little while for him and me to sort of warm up [to] how we addressed each other because I’m intimidated and he doesn’t know what I’m going to come at him with. Eventually we created this really lovely working relationship but I had to sort of stop freaking out a little bit like this is the president from 24.”

With the release of his film, he has joined the ranks of what is often referred to as “the media,” an entity that did not escape pointed criticism in the film nor in his own personal reflection.

“I think the media in general lacks the nuance and complexity of the experience of people of color,” he stated. “I think that oftentimes we’re lumped sort of conveniently into certain group, particularly when you see Black people in otherwise White casts. Oftentimes you see some of the same tropes over and over again,” a missive Simien said included reality television – one character in Dear White People strives to be on a reality show throughout the movie.

“There’s a dichotomy of Black images; you either get the sort of tragic, sad, urban decay-like Black experience or you get the superhero perfect Essence magazine version of the Black experience. The sort of nuance of humanity of the Black experience is missing and what that subtly says is, if you can’t be messy and complicated, and neither this nor that, then we’re not human in a lot of ways,” the director voiced.

“You either have to be Barack Obama or we’re Trayvon Martin, and I feel that’s subtly saying something.”

The Movement

The movie Dear White People is just the begining of the conversation. In an effort to keep the conversation going, #DWPlobbytalk was launched to let people talk about their own experiences.