Dear White People’s Creator Explains What Netflix’s Racially-Charged Satire Is Really All About
Get ready to get woke.
Dear White People has arrived on Netflix, and creator Justin Simien‘s 10-episode adaptation of his critically-acclaimed 2014 film of the same name has a mission: To spotlight through satire what it’s really like to be the “other” in a particular environment.
“The show is about a group of black kids at a mostly white college navigating identity and who they really are in this environment where they’re not necessarily seen,” he explained to E! News. “It really centers around this character Samantha White, who is kind of a shock jock and has this radio show called Dear White People. And all the main characters are divided about whether it’s racist or whether it’s productive. From that point, we sort of follow, through all of these points of views, what it’s like to be one of very few of whatever you are in a particular environment.”
While Sam (played nimbly by breakout star Logan Browning) may be at the center of the premiere’s plot as the students of Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school, grapple with the fallout of one student organization’s horrendous blackface party, Dear White People ably explores several perspectives. It’s through meeting Lionel (DeRon Horton), the shy, gay journalist, and Troy (Brandon P. Bell, who also starred in the film), the campus golden boy and son of the Dean, and Reggie (Marque Richardson, also returning), the passionate activist, that the series is able to turn its blistering satirical lens on not just the outwardly racist, but also the superficially liberal, as well as the varied—and often opposing—points of view among the black students themselves.
In other words, Dear White People is more than those outraged over its provocative title would have you believe.
And did we mention the show is really, really funny, too? Because it is. A standout bit of satire in the premiere centers around Sam and her friends gathering to hate-watch Defamation, a primetime soap that’s spoofs Shonda Rhimes‘ Scandal so good it hurts. It’s hardly the only bit of pop culture to get lovingly tweaked as the season progresses, and Simien insists they’re there for more than just the well-earned laughs.
“Listen, it’s a satire. It’s a comedy. There’s no way to talk about black life without discussing what we watch on TV,” he said. “The truth is, in a lot of ways, the show is about storytelling and the stories that we tell ourselves, and what our characters are watching is super integral to who they are.”
That said, he couldn’t help but admit that there might have also been a slightly-selfish motive behind the Shondaland spoof. “Honestly, shooting Defamation is just because I never got a chance to shoot Scandal,” Simien admitted. “That was probably the most fun I ever had on set.”
For more from Simien, Browning and Bell, be sure to check out the video above.
All 10 episodes of Dear White People season one are available to stream on Netflix now.