In 2014, Justin Simien raised some eyebrows with his very relevant satire DEAR WHITE PEOPLE. The film garnered critical acclaim at Sundance and turned the volume up a couple of notches when it came to the conversation about race and identity politics. Now, with the new upcoming television adaptation at Netflix, Simien plans to put the volume on blast with a series that allows the characters more room to grow with nuance and complexity that was originally planted with firm roots in the original film.
The new series is a replica of Simien’s film which earned him the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at Sundance and the Independent Spirit Award’s Best First Screenplay. But while other film-to-TV adaptations are destined to fail, Dear White People was posed to be a success as a series because the film, although satisfying, still left the audience hungry for more.
Set at the fictitious predominantly white Ivy League Winchester University, the story is a satirical take on the relationships between the students during what is considered post “post-racial” America. Focusing on a group of students of color navigating through the rugged terrain of political correctness, social injustice, and millennial-driven activism, the series is split up into chapters telling the story of a character during a specific period of time.
During SXSW, the audience was treated to two episodes of the series, the first focusing on Sam (Logan Browning), the sharp-tongued and blunt personality who hosts the racially-charged program “Dear White People” on campus radio. She has a side-bae in the form of her white TA, Gabe (John Patrick Amadori), which starts to pose some problems when word gets out. The second put us in the shoes of Lionel (DeRon Horton), a nerdy, awkward newspaper reporter who doesn’t believe in labels and has a crush on his straight roommate (Brandon P. Bell, reprising his role from the original film). All comes to head when a blackface party is held and adds kindling to a fire of racial tensions that is already burning brightly on campus.
Browning, who steps into the character original played by Tessa Thompson, fills the role perfectly with finesse, giving a very pointed performance as Sam while Horton is the breakout as the socially awkward, yet endearing Lionel that is an outcast within a marginalized group — a narrative that is seldom explored. In Dear White People, it is clear Simien had a chance to refine his characters and the layered storylines. From the dialogue to the hilarious Defamation, a Scandal-like TV show-within-the TV show, you can tell that he had a grand ol’ time letting his creativity go wild with Sam, Lionel, and the rest of the characters. During a Q&A after the World Premiere screening at SXSW, Simien said that he loved narratives with multiple protagonists, citing Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. This new 10-episode series gives him the platform to do that and after giving us a taste, the audience was chomping at the bit for more on these characters played by a roster of impressive up-and-coming talent.
The first two episodes pulsate with biting repartee and wit that give even more dimension to the existing characters. Dear White People pushes the conversation about divisive issues forward and gives the hungry audience more to chew on and naysayers more to fuel their losing argument of reverse racism.
Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
Dear White People premieres April 28 on Netflix
Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
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Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer
SXSW runs from March 10 through 19. For more of the Tracking Board’s coverage of SXSW, click here.