Dear White People creator Justin Simien joined Shadow And Act's Locked Down With ___ Facebook Live Q&A series to discuss what fans will see in the fourth season, some background on his upcoming Hulu horror film Bad Hair and the production timeline regarding his biopic on hip hop legend Sylvia Robinson.
Bad Hair, which debuted at Sundance this year before being acquired by Hulu, is Simien's contribution to one of his favorite genres, psychological horror/thriller. It's also inspired by Korean horror films, which frequently use hair as a horror device.
“Bad Hair is about a woman in 1989's Los Angeles. Right when New Jack Swing is making Black music pop for the first time...Black people are having a moment and she senses an opportunity [for her] to rise up at this company," he said.
“She's working at a company called Culture TV, which is like a Black entertainment/music/television type channel. And in order to move up the ranks when Vanessa Williams takes over as the boss...she gets this weave.1989 is also the year [when] hair weaves become more accessible to everyday consumers. And [this] weave tremendously escalates her momentum at work, but it is a horror-thriller. There's a cost to having the weave, the weave has a bit of a bloodlust. It requires blood to survive."
It's a film Simien said is ridiculous, “but I'm a little ridiculous," he continued, adding that psychological thrillers often exist in the realm of the absurd.
“Let's take psychology and have that be the basis of the evil and let the filmmaking be gregarious and...out there," he said. “What's so cool about those moves is that they're able to dissect what's wrong about a society because everything that you're watching is so absurd you begin to realize the ways in which the world that we actually live is in and of itself absurd. I wanted to take that genre and apply it to Black people and Black people's lives."
Speaking of hair, Simien also said that the fourth and final season of Dear White People is “coming for the edges," telling fans that the season's 10 episodes have already been written with "big...f*****g idea at the center of it." Fans can expect the series, he said, “as soon as I get to shoot it," since he's been in lockdown because of COVID-19 “just like everybody else."
Dear White People is of course, based on his film of the same name. Even though the film is now known as a Sundance darling, Simien said he didn't remember the experience of the film's Sundance debut the same way.
“I did not experience Dear White People at Sundance as a darling....There white people who were mad at me for making it, there Black people who were mad at me for making it," he said. “People were both upset at me for bringing up dirty laundry, but they were also upset because it wasn't radical enough. It wasn't Black enough, it wasn't gay enough. And it was too Black, and it was too gay. I just remember [the experience] being a hot mess and being humiliated that we hadn't actually sold the movie. But this is all in private of course, because on the social media...you gotta be cute...because you're trying to sell the d**m movie, but as an artist, I was f*****d up."
In fact, the process of selling a movie is something Simien likens to “being on an auction block."
“It's awful," he said. “You pour your heart and soul into making something, and then you have to take it to a marketplace and sell it...You pour years and years of effort and self-doubt...and struggle and all the s**t that it takes to make a movie, you make something and then you hold it up for auction to see how much white people value it and how much they're willing to pay you for it and...invest in it."
While his current film project about Robinson is currently at Warner Bros., Simien also talked about the frustration there is in getting the project greenlit and cast at any studio, not just Warner Bros.
“Frankly, we're in this moment of Black Lives Mattering, I think the way Black casting works at [Hollywood] studios, Black actors are not as valuable to the stakeholders in Hollywood. It's harder to get a Black movie made where the cast is all Black and female. Figuring out a way to make that movie and do it justice and make sure that it is a big f*****g deal...is just a little bit tricker, because it's Black."
However, Simien said that working on the film has been “a really great experience" and says the film project is in a “good place," with the team “really close to having a package of the project that will get going."
Black Lives Matter, of course, is at the center of protesting the unrest occurring in America after the murder of George Floyd by former Minnesota, MN, police officer Derek Chauvin. Simien said “I made Dear White People for a time like this." He also said his college activist character Samantha White (Logan Browning) would say “I told you," with regards to all the issues being debated today in the midst of the protests.
“We've been speaking to these issues since 2013...so much of what I have to say has been said," he said.“So much of what Sam has to say, she has said."
He also talked about the criticism he's received from white people about the show's name.
“I have dealt with it by slowly doing the Homer Simpson in the bush back-up to Twitter as a whole," he said, adding that while the platform is great for Black people to voice their opinions and anger at societal issues,"it is also a place where a person like me can just look at the negative reactions to things and get really f*****g caught up in it." But, he said, as far as white people being annoyed at the name of the series, "That level of white fragility is exactly what I'm coming for with the show."
“You have to, at some point, deal with the fact that criticism is going to be a big part of your life," he said about criticism in general.“We can't disassociate and not listen to it and pretend like they're all [ridiculous] because then we'll never get better, but we also can't take it so literal to where we feel like we're bad."
“...For me, it's about separating the part of my spirit that is making art because I want people to see me and I want people to hear what I have to say and I want people see all the intention and all of time I spent making this [project]," he continued. “...That part of me is a different part of me from the public persona of Justin who is promoting the movie or putting it all on the line or answering the hard questions in the Q&A."
Dear White People is certainly a show made for this time, but with the series ending at such a critical time, Simien addressed what fans can do if they want to see more.
“The decision to end Dear White People in its fourth season is one that I embrace, but it wasn't necessarily my decision. This is where the demand in the marketplace is," he said. “If you would like more, let the people who own Dear White People, which is Lionsgate and Netflix, know that. Maybe something will happen, I don't know."
You can watch the full Facebook Live video above.