Dear White People

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Dear White People
Dear White People.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJustin Simien
Written byJustin Simien
Produced by
CinematographyTopher Osborn
Edited byPhillip J. Bartell
Music byKathryn Bostic
  • Code Red Films
  • Duly Noted
  • Homegrown Pictures
Distributed by
Release dates
  • January 18, 2014 (2014-01-18) (Sundance)
  • October 17, 2014 (2014-10-17) (United States)
Running time
108 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.3 million[2][3]
Box office$5.4 million[3]

Dear White People is a 2014 American[4] satirical dark comedy-drama film[5][6] written, directed and co-produced by Justin Simien. The film focuses on escalating racial tensions at a fictitious, prestigious Ivy League college from the perspective of several black students. It stars Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P. Bell, Brittany Curran, Marque Richardson and Dennis Haysbert.

The film premiered in competition in the US Dramatic Category at 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2014.[7][8] The film had a theatrical release in United States on October 17, 2014.[9] A commercial and critical success, the film profited at the box office and received positive reviews from many professional critics. It has also been nominated for and has received several awards.

In 2017, the film was adapted into a Netflix series of the same name, also with Simien's involvement.[5][6] Like the film, the series has also enjoyed critical acclaim.


Samantha White, a media arts major at the fictional Winchester University, causes a stir at the prestigious and predominantly white school by criticizing white people and the racist transgressions at Winchester in her sharp-tongued, witty radio show Dear White People and her self-published book, Ebony and Ivy. Tensions rise when Sam runs to become head of house of Armstrong/Parker, the historically-black house on campus. She is opposed by Troy Fairbanks, an ex-boyfriend who harbors dreams of being a comedic writer, but who is pressed by his father, the school's dean, to become a lawyer, to not give white people a chance to profile him, and to give nothing less than his best. Coco is trying to persuade a reality TV producer to do a show on her, but he would prefer to highlight the light-skinned Sam. Lionel Higgins, a black gay student, gets a chance to find his place at Winchester by being recruited by the school's most prestigious student newspaper to write a piece on Sam and the black experience at Winchester. When Kurt, a white student and son of the school's president, and his club throw a blackface party in response to Sam's outspoken show, black students appear at the party, and a brawl ensues.



Simien spent five years writing the script beginning in 2007. The next year, he made a trailer to promote and gain attention and funds for his project, which went viral.[10] He also launched a campaign at Indiegogo to raise $25,000 but he got an overwhelming response and managed to raise $40,000 instead.[11]

The project won IndieWire's Project of the Year title and Simien was later invited to 2013 Tribeca Film Festival to participate in Filmmaker/Industry meetings hosted by the festival.[12] Talking about Tribeca Film Festival, Simien said that "we had a lot of meetings with a lot of studios. We had a lot of conversations with studios and distributors and basically, we decided that the best offer on the table was from an independent financier, Julie Lebedev of Code Red Films. To make it independently, that was really the dream -- because then we could make the movie we wanted to make."[10]


Principal photography took place in late September 2013 in Minnesota, including at the University of Minnesota and other locations in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and in Los Angeles, including the UCLA campus.[13] The filming was completed in 19 days.[14] Simien shot the film with Red Epic digital camera and said that "I would love to shoot on film. I don't believe it's completely dead, but this format made a lot of sense for our production."[10][15]


Box office[edit]

Dear White People grossed $347,959 in its first weekend in only 11 theaters. It went on to earn $4,404,154 in a limited theatrical run, finishing as the 3rd highest-grossing film to come out of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.[16][17]

Critical response[edit]

Justin Simien, director of Dear White People, won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 91% based on 130 reviews, with an average rating of 7.47/10. The site's critical consensus reads "Dear White People adds a welcome new voice to cinema's oft-neglected discussion of race, tackling its timely themes with intelligence, honesty, and gratifyingly sharp wit."[18] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 79 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19]

Justin Chang, in his review for Variety, said that the film "provokes admiration for having bothered to ask some of the hard questions without pretending to know any of the answers" and praising the cast said that "Williams, Thompson, Parris and Bell all make strong, distinctive impressions, with Thompson perhaps the standout as the film’s sharpest and most enigmatic figure."[20] Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter praised the performances of cast, saying, "Thompson’s conflicted student activist, which she pulls off with practiced composure. Williams manages to consistently dial up Lionel's nervousness and bewilderment throughout the film to a point of heightened tension that necessitates decisive resolution. As lovers, then rivals who must eventually seek mutual accommodation, Parris and Bell understand that for Coco and Troy, discovering humility is just the beginning of these characters' realigned journeys." He further added, "An edgy premise and memorable cast make for a potent first impression."[21] Zeba Blay of IndieWire gave a positive review and said, "With its vividly drawn world and characters, the movie doesn’t presume to encompass the entirety of what it means to be black, but it does give one of the most entertaining and honest depictions of black life in a so-called “white” world in years."[22] Terence Johnson of gave a positive review to the film and said that "Dear White People is a perfect film for today’s generation".[23]


Year Award / Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
2014 Palm Springs International Film Festival Directors to Watch Justin Simien Won [24][25]
Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent Justin Simien Won [26]
Gotham Independent Film Awards Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award Justin Simien Nominated [27]
Breakthrough Actor Tessa Thompson Won
2015 Black Reel Awards Outstanding Film Dear White People Nominated [28]
Outstanding Director Justin Simien Nominated
Outstanding Screenplay, Adapted or Original Nominated
Outstanding Original Score Kathryn Bostic Nominated
Outstanding Ensemble, Casting Director Kim Coleman Nominated
Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture Tessa Thompson Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male Tyler James Williams Won
Brandon Bell Nominated
Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female Teyonah Parris Won
Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Screenplay Justin Simien Won [29][30]
Best First Feature Justin Simien, Effie Brown, Ann Le, Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez and Lena Waithe Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Motion Picture Dear White People Nominated [31]
Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Tessa Thompson Nominated

TV series[edit]

On May 5, 2016, Lionsgate announced a deal to produce a series based on the film, distributed through Netflix. This is the second Netflix original program for Lionsgate Television, following Orange Is the New Black.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dear White People". British Board of Film Classification. May 26, 2015. Retrieved July 5, 2015.
  2. ^ Stern, Marlow (October 30, 2014). "'Dear White People': How An Ex-Publicist's Twitter Became One of the Year's Most Important Films". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 10, 2017 – via
  3. ^ a b "Dear White People (2014)". The Numbers. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  4. ^ "'Dear White People' Is A Satire Addressed To Everyone". NPR - Fresh Air. October 16, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Silverman, Justin Rocket (2014). "Racial attitudes are put under the microscope in satirical 'Dear White People". New York Daily News.
  6. ^ a b Bircoll, Jamie (2014). "Marque Richardson discusses new project, 'Dear White People'". The Michigan Daily. University of Michigan.
  7. ^ "'Dear White People,' 'Fishing Without Nets' Will World Premiere At Sundance 2014 (Lineup Announced)". IndieWire. Archived from the original on February 6, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  8. ^ "'Dear White People' to premiere at Sundance". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  9. ^ "Sundance Award winner Dear White People releases first full trailer". Digital Spy. July 23, 2014. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
  10. ^ a b c "'Dear White People:' From Indiewire Project of the Year to Sundance Film Festival". December 5, 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  11. ^ "Dear White People: A satire about being a black face in a very white place". Indiegogo. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  12. ^ "Congrats to 'Dear White People,' Indiewire & Tribeca Film Institute's Project of the Year!". IndieWire. March 15, 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  13. ^ "Watching "Dear White People" With a Bunch of White People at Sundance". Complex. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  14. ^ Justin Simien, public panel, Angelika Film Center, Dallas, Texas, October 22, 2014.
  15. ^ "'Dear White People' hits close to home". Minnesota Daily. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  16. ^ "Sundance 2014 Movies at the Box Office - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  17. ^ "Dear White People (2014) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  18. ^ "Dear White People (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  19. ^ "Dear White People Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  20. ^ "Sundance Film Review: 'Dear White People'". Variety. January 20, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  21. ^ "Dear White People: Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter. January 20, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  22. ^ "Sundance Review: 'Dear White People' (A Cinematic Answer To The Year Of The "Race-Themed" Film)". IndieWire. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  23. ^ Johnson, Terence (January 19, 2014). "Sundance Review: Dear White People". Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  24. ^ "Film Festival Fetes Jonah Hill, 'Saving Mr. Banks' Director". January 22, 2014.
  25. ^ "Palm Springs: Variety to honor Jonah Hill at film festival". January 22, 2014. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  26. ^ "2014 Sundance Film Festival Announces Feature Film Awards". January 26, 2014. Archived from the original on January 29, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  27. ^ "Gotham Independent Film Awards 2014 Nominations". Rotten Tomatoes. October 23, 2014. Archived from the original on October 27, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2014.
  28. ^ "And the Nominees Are . . ". The Black Reel Awards. December 17, 2014. Archived from the original on March 27, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2021.
  29. ^ "Justin Simien '05 wins Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay". Chapman Newsroom. February 23, 2015.
  30. ^ "'Dear White People' Writer-Director Justin Simien Calls For More Diversity In Storytelling At Spirit Awards". The Huffington Post. February 21, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  31. ^ "2015 - NAACP Image Awards: Winners and Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. February 6, 2015. Archived from the original on February 7, 2015. Retrieved March 31, 2021.
  32. ^ Lawler, Richard (May 5, 2016). "Netflix orders a series based on the movie 'Dear White People'". Engadget.

External links[edit]