*In Los Angeles, the latest edition of Netflix’s FYSEE, spotlighted “Dear White People” with a discussion including show creator Justin Simien and award winning director Barry Jenkins. The duo talked about satire, sobering documentaries and universal characters.
Moderator: How important is it that (all) audiences see themselves in the characters?
Justin Simien: It’s very important to me! I didn’t have a choice! All I had was White people to see myself in growing up. It is really profound to be able to see yourself in people and experiences that are different than your own. Often times when you see a Black character, you’re not supposed to see yourself in that character, that character is sort of a foil or comic relief or one or two dimensions, there to provide entertainment and bring further insight into the White characters. I wanted to create characters, where especially, if you didn’t think you would agree with their ideologies, you could connect with their heart and experiences.
Moderator: Where is the intersection between what is happening in the real world and what your characters are going through?
Justin Simien: It always sucks when you are doing a satire that becomes a sobering documentary! The point of a satire is to loll you in with laughter and to look more deeply at yourself. What these kids are fighting for does not come easily, even if we are completely on their side and ideology. I needed that as a point of catharsis. To see people who look like me and had experiences like me, who didn’t quite get there. This is the moment we are in now. The assumption is they’re going to get back on the horse and pick up the fight again.
Moderator: Where were you when you heard about the opportunity to direct on this series?
Barry Jenkins: Justin came and saw the first rough cut of “Moonlight.” And a month later, he called me and said, ‘I might want you to direct an episode of the show.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, “Moonlight” is going to be happening…and he said, ‘don’t worry man it’s going to be really simple. It’s just people walking and talking.’ Then he said, ‘it’s going to be like “Medicine for Melancholy.” Then two months later, I got the script.