AFI Movie Club: DEAR WHITE PEOPLE – American Film Institute

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AFI Movie Club: DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

Justin Simien’s witty and irreverent comedy DEAR WHITE PEOPLE stars Tyler James Williams and Tessa Thompson and premiered to acclaim at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. AFI alum Mel Jones (Class of 2010) was an associate producer on the film.

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DEAR WHITE PEOPLE – Reelgood

 
Watch director Justin Simien talk about DEAR WHITE PEOPLE:

Movie Trivia About DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

DID YOU KNOW?

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE marks director Justin Simien’s debut feature film. He won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival where the film premiered and the Film Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.

DID YOU KNOW?

The original title of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE was TWO PERCENT as a reference to the percentage of black students at the story’s fictional ivy league school. However, Justin Simien changed it to DEAR WHITE PEOPLE after being told that “number films never work” with marketing.

DID YOU KNOW?

The fictional Winchester University was partially inspired by director Justin Simien’s Chapman University experience where the student body was 1.6 percent Black, and also by his time working in film marketing. 

DID YOU KNOW?

Justin Simien set DEAR WHITE PEOPLE at a university because he admired the way films such as
FAME and ELECTION used school settings as microcosms for society at large.

DID YOU KNOW?

Justin Simien said the character Samantha White was a cross between Lisa Bonet, Angela Davis and Huey from THE BOONDOCKS. Tessa Thompson, who was cast in the role, said she was inspired by Davis as well as political activist Kathleen Cleaver.

DID YOU KNOW?

To develop the concept for DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, writer/director Justin Simien began tweeting as Sam White under the handle @dearwhitepeople. He tested jokes and incorporated many of his tweets – as well as some of the responses, a few of them hostile – into the final script.

DID YOU KNOW?

Justin Simien used a tax refund to create a trailer for DEAR PEOPLE, which launched a crowdfunding campaign, raising $50,000 and attracting the attention of film industry veterans. AFI alum Mel Jones encouraged her boss at the time, independent producer and former LA Film Festival director Stephanie Allain, to read the script, and both women would eventually sign on to produce the film.

DID YOU KNOW?

The closing credits of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE include actual photos from real-life college parties, with some real white students appearing in blackface.

DID YOU KNOW?

In addition to creating the film, Justin Simien also wrote a companion book called “Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in ‘Post-Racial’ America.”

DID YOU KNOW?

The acclaimed film would go on to be adapted into a Netflix show of the same name, with Simien returning to write and direct episodes of the series. Other prominent directors of the series include Barry Jenkins, Cheryl Dunye, Kimberly Peirce and AFI alums Tiffany Johnson, Charlie McDowell and Justin Tipping. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-What is meant by the title “Dear White People”?

-How does Justin Simien expand on the Black experience and the notion of identity in DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, particularly through the characters of Samantha White and Lionel Higgins? What contradictions exist within those characters?

-How does the film set up Samantha and Coco as opposites of one another in terms of assimilation of the dominant culture on campus?

-DEAR WHITE PEOPLE was written following the election of Barack Obama when many were under the impression that racism was a thing of the past. In the film, the Dean says, “Racism is over in America.” Why do you think he was under that impression and what is the myth of a post-racial society?

-What is white privilege and how is it defined by power structures? What types of white privilege does the film call out?

-How does the film reveal the hypocrisy of the supposedly liberal arts setting of Winchester University?

-What does the film have to say about the world of predominantly white comedy – in terms of the humor magazine “Pastiche” in the film? What are your feelings on politically incorrect humor and how can it be exploited as a shield for racism/sexism?

-In the weeks following the murder of George Floyd and nationwide protests, U.S. viewership of the TV series DEAR WHITE PEOPLE grew by 329 percent in a single week. Why were people seeking out the series more than ever before? What did it tap into in the current political and cultural climate?

-How can we confront the racism inherent in our culture and bridge the power gap to foster greater understanding and progress as a society?

-How would you rate DEAR WHITE PEOPLE?

New to AFI Movie Club? Want to learn more?

AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

Learn more in our FAQ section.

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