A recent article in the Washington Post highlights the work of provocative screenplay graduate Justin Simien, who has creatively used social media to create an exciting following for his screenplay — paving the road to production.
“Dear White People” is the brainchild of Justin Simien, 29, who started writing a screenplay about the cultural nuances that come along with being “a black face in a very white place”after he graduated from Chapman University, where he studied film. Two years ago he claimed the Twitter handle of the same name and started a chorus of tweets and retweets.
His screenplay features four black students and their experiences at the fictional, predominantly-white Manchester University, where an “African American”-themed party thrown by white students results in a riot.
Simien used Twitter to fine-tune the voice of “Sam White,” one of the main characters. In the trailer, Sam echoes some of the Twitter account’s quips. “DearWhitePeople. No need to start a Dear Black People. The programing on @VH1 has made us acutely aware of what you think of us.”
Comments on the YouTube posting accuse “Dear White People” of being racist. Simien admits that the project carries a provocative title, but he hopes would-be viewers will look beyond that. The screenplay “is not about what white people have done,” Simien says. “It’s not about teaching white people a lesson. It’s about feeling different than most people around you. Once you get past that provocative title there’s certainly a lot more than first meets the eye.”
Even though the majority of the main characters are black, Simien says the story will resonate with people of all races.
“Everyone can relate to feeling different than what other people see them as,” Simien said. The identity crisis that happens in college is a universal experience.”
When it comes to race, the general impulse may be to file it under: Things You Do Not Talk About. But the Internet has created a space where people feel comfortable confronting racial issues (usually with a heavy dose of sarcasm). It’s the sort of freedom that started with online comment boards and gave way to lighthearted memes such as “Stuff White People Like.”
And let’s not forget the “[Expletive] Girls Say” videos that went viral (perhaps, too viral) last year. Race played a prominent role in parodies like “[Expletive] Black Girls Say” and “[Expletive] White Girls Say…to Black Girls.” Lena Waithe, one of the producers behind “Dear White People,” wrote the former video.
Simien, Waithe and fellow producers, Angel Lopez and Ann Le, all with roots in L.A.-based film production, found that in addition to promoting their project, the Internet helped launch a conversation around it, even in the project’s early days on Twitter, according to Simien.
“It was resonating with people and people got it,” he said. “People of all races seemed to embrace it and get the joke.”
The screenplay is currently involved in a funding campaign on crowdsourcing site IndieGoGo, and while it’s $25,000 goal is already far surpassed (currently at over $37,000), there are still 9 days left to go, and every dollar counts! So if you enjoy Simien’s take on culture, make sure to support this independent screenwriter with a contribution.
Personally, I find the concept trailer made for the IndieGoGo campaign absolutely hilarious (don’t watch if you’re easily offended!):
Also, make sure to check out the blog tracking the film’s success, sharing Justin’s witty perspective.