The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Diary Series with 'Dear White People' (Part One)
Photo Credit: S & A

The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Diary Series with 'Dear White People' (Part One)


The Shadow & Act Filmmaker Diary Series returns with Dear White People, the debut feature from L.A.-based filmmaker Justin Simien. Recall that Justin released the concept trailer for the film last year, causing quite a stir and kicking off widespread media coverage, a successful Indiegogo campaign, and many more developments on the road to making a movie that takes a satirical look at black life on a  predominately white Ivy League campus. 

Here, he and his team share the first in a series of diary entries following the making of their film:


It’s a fair

question and one I get often. I’m thankful for this. It’s been one year

to the day since I debuted the concept trailer for ‘Dear White People’

here on Shadow & Act and the passion with which people ask that

question is an encouragement. I may not have a terribly satisfying

answer to give, but at least I’m not getting “What the hell is ‘Dear

White People?'” or “Who the hell are you and why are you drinking all my

gin?” I enjoy a nice Gimlet.

I’m going to tell you something you already know. It’s hard

making movies ya’ll. Harder still if the movie in question stars Black

folks or endeavors to tell a story about the experience of any minority.

Mine does both. And while I’m flattered that people who see our concept

trailer think the film is done, the truth is that three minutes of

trailer is all my tax return and two hurried days of shooting in LA sans

permits could afford.

I’ll be honest. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. However, when I

found out that a potential financing deal fell through after months of

negotiations, budget crunching, (and caffeine fueled rewrites graciously

hosted by Graffiti on La Brea) I was devastated. For real. Oprah’s

Lifeclass was on a twenty-four hour loop. Incense was being lit. Church

attendance went up considerably. As did Gimlet consumption. I had a


The truth is that it can take years to get a movie off the

ground. I’ve been working to make the film since 2005, when the sum of

my college experiences collided with my thirst for something funny and

profound starring people that looked like me at the movie theater. Since

then the idea for ‘Dear White People’ has been met with a variety of

responses, from polite indifference to downright insult, and most

recently enthusiasm from the internet and more than a few industry

professionals. And seven years later, I still can’t answer the question:

“When is it coming out?” However, I can now say that it is coming.

As Saint Kanye remarked in a handout at one of his concerts I think, “If Everybody thinks it’s right…you’re doing something

wrong.” Amen. And for anybody who’s hoping to make a movie with and/or

about any of the people responsible for President Obama’s recent

re-election (thank God), you better make it your mantra. Because Idris

Elba and ‘Attack The Block’ be damned, everyone will tell you that the

Foreign Pre-sales used to fund most Indie movies is not an option for

you. They will look at you like you’re crazy when you say the most

recent comp for your movie was sometime in the early nineties (unless

your film is based on a book by Steve Harvey or TD Jakes or stars a thin

man as an undercover fat woman). And they will really start to squirm

when you pull out a budget that shows you actually hope to spend what

you think the movie will cost. Good luck with that one!

But if there’s one thing Oprah, Kanye West, and the feeling of

euphoria common with the amount of caffeine in a Graffiti espresso have

taught me, it’s that if you’ve got a story in your heart that you

absolutely, no questions asked, HAVE to tell, it will get told as long

it you don’t give up. It must. That’s why it’s in your heart.

After countless pitches and meetings with financiers, studio heads,

and production companies, we still don’t have a release date. What we do

have finally, is a financial path to make the movie. I can go into the

production process knowing that our concept trailer already proves we

have an audience. I’ve got a script that folks are loving. I have

a vibrant team of producers including the legendary Stephanie Allian,

Effie Brown,  Lena Waithe, Ann Le, and Angel Lopez. And I’ve got the

space to tell the story behind the story of ‘Dear White People’ every step

of the way. 


tuned to  Shadow & Act and to our new Making of docu-series as we

push this movie past the finish line. I’ll tell you truth and take you

through my journey of getting this controversial indie from computer

screens to movie screens. Its bound to be quite a ride!

For more Dear White People, visit:

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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