This story appeared in the spring 2014 issue of
“I just tried to stay cool and get myself on and off that stage without saying something crazy.” That’s how Justin Simien ’05 describes his limelight moment after winning the Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough Talent at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
And now his critically praised feature film,
Dear White People
, will get its chance to break into wide release.
Variety magazine reports that Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions together have acquired the rights to the film that Simien wrote and directed.
“Justin Simien is a funny, fresh and current voice with his finger on the millennials’ pulse,” said Roadside co-president Howard Cohen.
Earlier this year, Variety named the Texas-born Simien one of its 10 Directors to Watch, calling
Dear White People
“lively and articulate.” The ensemble satire chronicles the experiences of four black students at an Ivy League-inspired college where a riot breaks out after a white fraternity holds an African-American-themed party.
“The film is about identity,” Simien said during a recent Google Hangout conversation online. “It’s about being a black face in a white place, and toggling between different levels of blackness. It is, in my opinion, the new black experience.”
The comedy, starring Tyler James Williams (
Everybody Hates Chris
) and Tessa Thompson (
), sprang from a concept trailer that generated tremendous buzz and helped drive Simien’s highly successful crowdfunding campaign.
The excitement generated by the campaign and especially the trailer helped show that there was an audience for the film, said Simien, who earned a BFA in film production at Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
“When I started telling people about the film, all of my friends were saying, ‘That’s my experience.’ But Hollywood as a whole was, ‘Who’s going to show up for that? Black people don’t go to smart movies, and white people don’t go to black movies.’ “I had to prove that this was a conversation worth having.”
Dear White People grew from a Twitter handle to Sundance fame. Follow Justin Simien ’05 on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.