After growing through a spoof Twitter account , a viral concept trailer and a successful crowdfunding campaign , the feature film Dear White People will debut on Saturday at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, joining 16 other films in the U.S. Dramatic Competition category. Cloaked in satire, the film tackles racial identity at a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League institution. The title of the film comes from a character's campus radio show that addresses white people's misconceptions about black culture.
The film marks the feature debut for director and screenwriter Justin Simien, 30. He began the script in 2007 after graduating from Chapman University, a private school in Orange, Calif. Simien says he drew largely from his own experience at the predominantly white institution in crafting the film. Leaving his native Houston, Simien felt "exoticized for being black" when he got to Chapman. According to Chapman's fall 2012 enrollment data , only 94 of 5,681 undergraduates identified as black or African American.
"People had a lot of assumptions about me as a black person," Simien says. "That gray area toggling between how black should I or should I not act depending on who I'm around, not even fitting in with the black kids at first, not knowing where to fit in — that was the experience that I found myself having as I became an adult and entered the workforce. You sort of realize that all of us were having that experience."
Simien hopes the satirical tone of his film will serve as a gateway to dialogue, eliciting laughter from the audience while leaving them thinking about the issues of race. While working on the screenplay, Simien created the Twitter account @DearWhitePeople in 2010 as a tool to test Samantha's voice and gauge how audiences responded to the satirical riffs.
To his surprise, fans have emerged from all types of people.Already tapped by Variety as one of "10 Directors to Watch," Simien hopes to find a distributor for the film to show it in theaters nationwide.
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Stephen "TheeBlackSocialite" Hale