"Dear White People" Director Talks Classic Cinema References with AFI

Writer/director Justin Simien spoke about his film, "Dear White People" as a part of the American Film Institute's Movie Club Alumni Day. Justin Simien’s witty and irreverent film debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. AFI alumni Mel Jones (Class of 2010) served as an associate producer on the film.


The films included in AFI Movie Club are accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points, and material from the AFI Archive to offer a unique and exclusive experience to its viewers. Here are some of the facts Simien shared to accompany the screening of Dear White People:

  • To develop the concept for DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, writer/director Justin Simien began tweeting as Sam White under the handle @dearwhitepeople. He tested jokes and incorporated many of his tweets – as well as some of the responses, a few of them hostile – into the final script.

  • Justin Simien used a tax refund to create a trailer for DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, which launched a crowdfunding campaign, raising $50,000 and attracting the attention of film industry veterans. AFI alum Mel Jones encouraged her boss at the time, independent producer and former LA Film Festival director Stephanie Allain, to read the script, and both women would eventually sign on to produce the film.

  • The original title of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE was TWO PERCENT as a reference to the percentage of black students at the story’s fictional ivy league school. However, Justin Simien changed it to DEAR WHITE PEOPLE after being told that “number films never work” with marketing.


Here's a bit of Justin's conversation with AFI lecturer Chris Schwartz:



2020