*The first season of “Dear White People” arrived on DVD and Digital May 8, and EUR/Electronic Urban Report caught up with writer/producer Justin Simien to dish about the bonus content that “Lionsgate was interested in preserving,” he said, adding that the home entertainment release also offers fans some insight into the magic of “how we made the show.”
Based on his acclaimed debut feature film, “Dear White People” is an episodic series that tells the story of a group of black students navigating the daily sights and slippery politics of life at an Ivy League college that’s not as “post-racial” as it thinks.
Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix and Simien raised the bar even higher, tackling “colorism in a more meaningful way,” as well as exploring “this idea of choosing white when you’re a black woman and you’re surrounded by white women and white feminism and all these things that want to include you.”
Get into our Q&A with Mr. Simien below.
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Talk about any DVD special features or bonus content that you’re most excited about fans experiencing.
Justin: The big one is commentary about the thinking behind some of the episodes, as well as a real behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show. We put so much into it and it’s really packed. I like making layers of things that take a while to digest and unpack and it’s fun to be able to openly talk about what all we’re thinking about when putting the show together. So if you’re a fan of us, this is a pretty comprehensive guide into the world of Winchester and the process of translating a film into a series.
There are several clever and memorable moments and witty one-liners in season one, so I’m curious to know if you have a favorite moment or scene from last season?
Justin: I have so many favorite moments. I think as a director, my filmmaker favorite moment was when Lionel is fantasizing about what Troy might be doing in the room next to him. The camera moves in the walls and up, literally. We sort of watch Lionel’s fantasy of Troy, and I thought that was a fun way of describing what I think every quiet, shy, gay black man has ever felt about their first, straight best friend.
And I also really enjoy all of the parodies. But I particularly enjoy Dereca and Barry’s episode, episode 5, just because (director) Barry Jenkins is shooting in the next room and I’m at a monitor, and Daheli, who plays Dereca, nobody can crack me up the way that she can, and I’m several rooms away and Barry was like, “Justin, I need to get through one take without you laughing.” And it was like, “Oh, shit. I’m that loud?” The stuff that we didn’t use continues to be the funniest thing. I think that was my favorite moment on set and also watching it back. I can’t get enough of Dereca. I would watch a whole season of that if I could. We did some more with Dereca for season 2 and that stuff is even funnier.
These funny moments that didn’t make the final cut of the show, are they included on the DVD?
Justin: As far as I know, they did find some deleted moments that they’re including but their big thing was wanting to showcase the undercurrent of the show, the behind-the-scenes aspect of the show. So much of what we do does go into the show but there’s a little bit more defamation that people haven’t seen. I think if we were to put every single one of Daheli’s takes on the Blu-ray, it would fill the file to capacity but would it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense, ‘cause she’s just wildin’ off. So it’s less focus on that and more focus on things that were kind of completed and makes sense on their own that Lionsgate was interested in preserving. And also just giving some insight into how we made the show. It ruins the magic to do all that before it comes out. But after it comes out, when people have done their think-pieces and they’ve had their conversations, it’s actually then fun to say, “Okay, this is how we did the magic trick.” That’s what Lionsgate did a really good job at capturing.
When last we spoke, you noted how very personal the film was, but which process do you consider most therapeutic, making the movie or making the series?
Justin: Certainly the series. The film was so hectic. We had no money. We had no time. I think I prepped that movie in two weeks. We shot it in 29 days. It was hectic, as I think it should be to make a movie, to make your first movie. I had the fortune of wallowing in nothingness for 8 years writing the movie when nobody knew who I was because it gave me a lot of time to prepare for what was a very fast and frantic shooting schedule and post-production schedule. We finished by the skin of our teeth just in time to submit for Sundance and by the time we got into to Sundance, the celebration was short-lived because that meant we had to finish post-production in just as fast a time.
Just having the room to sit and talk and think about the show within the context of the writers room, to be inspired by other people, by the cast themselves — that part has been very cathartic, and it just makes the stew a lot richer. I think it feels a bit more complete to us because everything we’ve talked about, we’ve seen it either go into the series or be placed into the vote for future seasons or after talking about it exhaustively, we decided not to do it, and we have the time to think about it and our creative choices. That for me has been very fulfilling, and I’m excited to try and make another movie with more of that space that I think, having made my first movie already, has allowed me. I think they were both wild experiences and certainly writing the movie was much more about the experience of just living my life, but the show, I can’t believe someone is paying me to show up in a room and talk about these things that I’d already be talking about and finding really shady, funny ways in which to write about them. I’d be doing that anyway, so it’s nice that someone is paying for the rent while we show up and do that.
Talk about your inspiration going into season two and did you feel more pressure to take the narrative to the next level?
Justin: The worst thing to feel as an artist is that you’re being misunderstood. I think so many of us get into it because we want to be understood and so, what was kind of a relief but also more terrifying the more I dug into the so-called controversy is that, there was a lot of consorted effort to purposely misunderstand the show and keep people from ever watching it in the first place. I remember having this back and forth with a very prominent Alt-writer who has now been banned from Twitter and I was like, “You can’t possibly think this is what the show is about.” And he wrote me back, he said: “I get you, but this is for the bait.” It was obvious that there’s a game being played where outrage is being weaponized to mobilize a group of people who frankly, maybe don’t have a ton to be outraged about, but whose political capital has become very valuable to a number of people in this country and in Russia.
So to see how easily manipulated we can be and how thoughtlessly manipulative and Machiavellian some of these other forces can be, that was a lot of inspiration and it gave me, along with the Trump presidency and the rise of the so-called Alt-right — which I prefer to call racists in this country — that certainly lit a fire and gave me a sense of urgency about really trying to get to the bottom of why this is such a difficult conversation to have.
It’s very hard to live the life of being a black person but the conversation and the conclusions that we reach, they seem pretty common sense and logical to us. So why is it when we try and bring them up in a public forum is it met with so much aggression and misunderstanding and the truth that I kept coming up against over and over is that it’s because people are purposely being misinformed. There’s a kind of amnesia in this country where we’re sort of taught to forget what really actually happened 100 years ago, in some cases 20 years ago if you want to talk about the so-called war on drugs. We’re encouraged to forget what happened so that we can move on and accept. But we’re still black and we’re still feeling that life is different for us so we don’t go along with the okey-doke quite as easily as other people.
I think that if there was ever any sort of creative pressure it was self-induced. I kinda walked in there with this 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and was like, “Yo, we can not rest on these laurels.” I think it would be boring to just deliver the same show with the same kind of format. So I think style-wise and tone-wise, you’re going to see a bit of a different show. The show is definitely taking a shift in tone and I think we really up the ante in terms of quality and the types of episodes. I’m really proud of the whole season but episode 5 was really a game changer for our show. It was one that really stopped people in their tracks, and my mission was to have all episode fives with this new season. I want no edges left. I want there to be a baldness epidemic that runs rampant in the world because people have been watching the show. That was the goal. Our feet are wet. We fought the battles with having a first season, now let’s just go all the way in.
You never get 100% of what you try to do but I definitely think we pushed the bar up just a little bit higher than the first season, which, if we hadn’t, I don’t know what the point is. I don’t know any other way for the show to work than to try to be greater. I’m bored keeping things the way they are. So I think season two is kind of an urgency of diagnosing the issue of why talking about race remains to be so problematic for people but then also, just the stories. We wanted to go really deep with the characters and tell personal stories about people of color that, even with a remarkable growth in television shows about black folks, there’s still stories that remain untold. So for each of those characters, for each of those episodes, it was like, okay… what hasn’t been said yet? And if it’s been said, has it been said in this way or in this context? If the answer was “No” then we went for it.
With season one, you touched on many of the issues that affect black women and have us discussing with each other daily either face to face or via social media. Does season two continue to push these conversations forward?
Justin: I’d be nowhere without black women. I was raised by a village of black women. My dad died when I was young. My showrunner is a woman. My best friend is a woman, Lena Waite. Because I am a black, gay man, there are ways in which I feel oppressed in society but I still have male privilege and I feel like very few things are as hard to be in America as a black woman, particularly a black woman that has her eye on success, or has an ambitious set of goals. I think they get kicked at from all angles so I always carry that in with everything that I do. I feel like I owe something to that group of people. And that’s not to say that black women can’t write their own stories but this is an ensemble show and a lot of people’s favorite characters are Sam, Joelle and Coco and I have to do right by those fans.
And of course, there’s so much to say. You can’t scratch the surface of it with ten episodes of television. There’s a lot more to say. We get into colorism in a more meaningful way. We get into this idea of choosing white when you’re a black woman and you’re surrounded by white women and white feminism and all these things that want to include you. I think a lot of women have to make a choice between two different societies, we get into that a bit more. We certainly get into Sam’s experiences as a bi-racial black woman and Coco’s experience as someone who’s not biracial but does feel a bit alienated from her mom and the neighborhood that she came from. She comes from the south side of Chicago. She was plucked from that neighborhood at a young age, so there’s an aspect of her own history that she hasn’t fully dealt with that we get into.
There were a lot of stories that the women in the room, and that I had on my mind, that were personal that the show hadn’t explored yet and that other shows hadn’t explored that I felt like I wanted to give space for these stories to be told. I certainly want my writers to feel like if they didn’t get to tell these stories in a different writer’s room they’d get to tell it here. And there were a number of those stories that really scared me and made me feel like we have to do it and we have to make sure we do it right.
Season 2 of “Dear White People” is now streaming on Netflix.
The Virtual United Negro College Fund Tour Heads to NY, DC & NJ on Fri & Sat-Nov. 20 & 21 (EUR EXCLUSIVE!)
*African American students interested in going to college can attend the United Negro College Fund’s (UNCF) Fall 2020 virtual Empower Me Tour. Set for this Friday and Saturday (November 20 & 21, 2020), New York, District of Columbia, and New Jersey will be repped. (This year’s tour kicked off earlier this month in Wisconsin and Illinois). To register, go here.
The Empower Me Tour is an extension of the goals of the UNCF. Founded in 1944, the UNCF, a non-profit, has raised more than $5 billion and helped more than 500,000 students attend 37 private historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The EUR caught up with Stacey Lee, the tour’s director for four years, who discussed the importance of the event.
“The UNCF is the nation’s largest provider of education support to minority students,” said Lee. “The Empowerment Tour has been executed for the past 12 years and last year along we offered over $12 million dollars in scholarships.”
Lee continued, “I think the great thing is that during these times, even with COVID-19, is that a number of corporations (Wells Fargo/P&/FedEx/Disney/Goldman Sachs) and donors have really been providing opportunity and financial access to our schools and students.”
The tour is packed with information and resources so that students and parents have the right tools to make informed decisions.
“It’s a free event that provides educational support, scholarships, interviews with colleges, empowerment, and information on how to get to and through college. We also provide this information for parents as well. We have a parent section that focuses on financial aid and the things you need to get your students to college.”
Lee continued, “Sometimes we have students that don’t realize that they can attend college. They can receive scholarships. Some of them don’t even know what an HBCU is. So, it’s inspirational for me to see these students receive this information and the excitement that’s around this tour.”
In addition to college information, panel sessions on issues affecting the community will also take place. Legendary rapper Bun B will be part of a special My Black Is Beautiful panel. The panel will have discussions with girls and boys and the MC will lead the male portion.
“It’s about empowerment,” Bun B told the EUR. “It’s vital for us to lift each other up and amplify each other’s voices. We just talk about now what that role is in this COVID world. And with everything that we are seeing with young Black men on television, we want to keep them motivated and centered. We want to make sure that they are not discouraged in this moment.”
Ever since Kamala Harris threw her hat into the presidential race and elected vice president of the United States, a spotlight has shined on the fact that she’s an HBCU grad (Howard University) and member of the African American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. These facts are not lost on the UNCF.
“Kamala has really boosted people’s awareness about HBCUs and (African American sororities) and the type of people that come out of HBCUs. HBCUS have also provided so many people from science, mathematics, and engineering programs (STEM).”
Bun B added, “We have more than enough examples to show you how beneficial an education from an HBCU can be. So, there is no reason to not be a part of an HBCU because the world is just as available to you as it is for anyone else attending any other type of university.”
New Music Buzz: Jazzy Rita Shelby’s ‘Goodbye 2020’
*SB Music presents “Goodbye 2020” a new single for the times we are in.
“Goodbye 2020” is performed by Jazzy Rita Shelby and written by Miss Shelby (ASCAP) and Eddie Lawrence Miller (BMI).
It’s the perfect anthem to end a year that has impacted the globe.
EURweb’s Jazzy Rita is also a prolific lyricist who has teamed up with Eddie Miller for “Goodbye 2020” because it was timely and convenient for the birth of a song such as this.
Eddie Miller is a coveted keyboardist & vocalist who performs regularly with Brian Culbertson and he’s the Rhodes Festival musical director. Jazzy Rita rose to notoriety as host & performer at The Starlight Jazz Serenade, an annual benefit concert in North Hollywood with an A list of stars. As a teen Miss Shelby was inspired to write songs by the legendary David Porter.
This year has been a year like no other. “Goodbye 2020” is an ode to the world for the year that we have seen and the hope that lies ahead. Radio Programmers click here for adds.
“Goodbye 2020” is released on the SB Music label and was recorded at Wishing Wells Studio in Canoga Park, CA. Willie Daniels and Mildred Black perform background vocals along with Jazzy Rita. The video is produced & directed by Jazzy Rita (LaRita Shelby), filmed & edited by Reggie Simon of Simon Vision Media, with wardrobe styling by Jazzy Rita and Poet Roni Girl’s Army Couture. “Goodbye 2020” is available on most digital platforms. Click here to listen on Spotify.
Celebrate Halloween with ‘Spell’ Starring Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine and John Beasley / WATCH
*Today/TONIGHT is Halloween and what could be a more perfect way to celebrate than with the release of SPELL? Enjoy the clips below to get you in the spooky spirit!
Omari Hardwick (“Power,” Sorry to Bother You), Loretta Devine (“Black-ish,” Crash) and John Beasley (The Sum of All Fears, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) star in the terrifying thriller SPELL, coming to Premium Video-On-Demand and Digital today October 30 from Paramount Home Entertainment.
While flying to his father’s funeral in rural Appalachia, an intense storm causes Marquis (Omari Hardwick) to lose control of the plane carrying him and his family. He awakens wounded, alone and trapped in Ms. Eloise’s (Loretta Devine) attic, who claims she can nurse him back to health with the Boogity, a Hoodoo figure she has made from his blood and skin. Unable to call for help, Marquis desperately tries to outwit and break free from her dark magic and save his family from a sinister ritual before the rise of the blood moon.
DIRECTED BY | Mark Tonderai
SCREENPLAY BY | Kurt Wimmer
STARRING | Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, John Beasley
AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS | Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, DirecTV, VUDU, Xfinity, FandangoNOW and more.
Rating | R – violence, disturbing/bloody images, and language
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