John Hanlon Reviews


Monday Spotlight: Justin Simien

Posted in: Monday Spotlight  |  By: John Hanlon  |  October 20th, 2014
Justin Simien

For his feature film debut, more about writer/director Justin Simien chose a controversial topic: the ongoing battles over racial identity. It was a risky choice, see of course, unhealthy for him to come out of the gate with a movie entitled Dear White People but it was one that ultimately worked out.

Not only has the film been critically acclaimed (it has a 97% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes) but it’s also been greeted warmly on the festival circuit. It won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and has been gaining buzz ever since. The movie arrived in theaters on Friday (here’s my review), and will likely mark just the first step in this filmmaker’s career.

With that in mind, Simien is in this week’s Monday Spotlight.

Here are three fun facts about the writer/director.

1.) According to Simien wanted this film to speak to a story that wasn’t being told anywhere else. He notes,  “I just felt like no one was really talking about the Black experience that I was having and in general there really weren’t a lot of movies that were talking about the black experience… There were black movies, sure, but they weren’t really getting into the essence of what it meant to be black in the way that movies of the late 80s and early 90s did. ”

2.) Despite Simien noting the dearth of films chronicling the multicultural experience, he is often pleased with what television has to offer. According to,  he notes that “I think TV has gotten it right. Shonda Rhimes has figured it out, getting multiracial casts on television and appealing to everybody. It’s interesting because I haven’t seen that with ‘white movies,’ which most people just call ‘movies.'”

3.) According to that same interview, the story of this movie being made is a long one. What started as a twitter account turned into a mock trailer, which led to financing for the film itself. According to NPR, the writer/director “used [the trailer] to attract funders. The trailer went viral, which helped him raise money through crowd sourcing.”

I can’t wait to see what Simien does next but his ambitious and smart film shows what he’s capable of.  Check out the trailer for the film below and you can see it in theaters now.