Justin Simien

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Justin Simien
Justin Simien at Sundance 2014 speaking.jpg
Simien speaking at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival
Born (1983-05-07) May 7, 1983 (age 38)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Alma materChapman University
OccupationFilm director, producer, screenwriter, actor, author
AwardsU.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent

Justin Simien (born May 7, 1983) is an American filmmaker, actor, and author. His first feature film, Dear White People, won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.[1] Simien has also been named to Variety's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.[2] The film was later adapted into the Netflix series of the same name (2017–2021).

Early life[edit]

Simien was born on May 7, 1983, in Houston, Texas. He is the son of Anna Simien.[3] Raised in the metro area, he attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. After graduation he studied film at Chapman University in California. Simien worked a number of jobs in Los Angeles prior to directing his first feature film, including social media manager at Sony Television, publicity assistant at Focus Features, and publicity coordinator at Paramount Pictures.[4]


Simien directed three short films prior to Dear White People: Rings (2006), My Women: Inst Msgs (2009), and INST MSGS (Instant Messages) (2009).[5]

Simien started work on what would become Dear White People in 2006,[6] with inspiration for the script coming from his feelings while attending the predominantly white Chapman University.[7] In 2012, he created a concept trailer using his tax refund as funding.[4] With the concept trailer as a centerpiece, he launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $25,000 but he got an overwhelming response and managed to raise $40,000 instead.[8]

The film premiered in-competition in the US Dramatic Category at 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2014.[9][10] The film began its theatrical release in the United States on October 17, 2014.[11] In its opening weekend the film grossed $344,000 in only eleven locations for an impressive $31,273 per theatre average.[12]

Dear White People won Simien the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival[1] and the "Audience Award" at the 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival.[13] Simien has also been named to Variety's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.[2]

On May 5, 2016, Lionsgate announced a deal to produce a Dear White People television series based on the film and distributed through Netflix with the show's first ten episodes to be written by Simien.[14] The series was released in April 2017 to critical acclaim. Peter Debruge, writing for Variety, praised the writing, directing, social commentary, and cast.[15] The New York Times praised the series' examination of concerns such as appropriation, assimilation, and conflict.[16] In June 2017 the series was renewed for a second season, which was released in May 2018. On June 21, 2018, the series was renewed for a third season, which was released in August 2019.[17][18] On October 2, 2019, the series was renewed for its fourth and final season, which will consist of 10 episodes set to premiere in 2020.[19]

He was the writer, director, and songwriter for the 2020 horror comedy Bad Hair.[20] It had its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.[21][22] Shortly after, Hulu acquired distribution rights to the film.[23] It was released in a limited release on October 16, 2020, by Neon, followed by digital streaming on Hulu on October 23, 2020.[24][25] The film received mixed reviews from critics.[26]

In 2019, Simien launched his production company, Culture Machine [27]

At Disney Investor Day 2020, he was announced as the showrunner for a new Disney+ series about Lando Calrissian, called Lando.[28]

In April 2021, Simien signed on to direct a new film adaptation of the Disney theme park attraction, The Haunted Mansion.[29] More recently, he signed an overall deal with Paramount Television Studios.[30]


While Simien has been compared to director Spike Lee, Simien says he does not welcome this comparison because he does not want to be "the next Spike Lee" but instead "the next Justin Simien" (although he does credit Lee's Do the Right Thing with "showing him that it's possible to make these types of black films").[7] Simien also counts Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman among his influences.[7]

Personal life[edit]

At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival premiere of Dear White People, Simien publicly announced he is gay.[6][7]



Year Film Credited as Role Notes
2006 Rings Producer, director, writer, editor
2009 My Women: Inst Msgs Director, writer, editor
2009 INST MSGS (Instant Messages) Co-producer, director, writer, editor, actor
2010 Head Producer
2011 Save Me Editor, gaffer
2010 The Goldfish Editor
2014 Dear White People Director, writer, producer
2014 Caught a Ghost: Get Your Life Director
2015 I Can't With You Actor Marshall
2020 Bad Hair Director, writer, producer, songwriter Reggie Watson
TBA Haunted Mansion Director


Year Show Credited as Role Notes
2017–2021 Dear White People Creator, executive producer, writer, director
2021 RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars Herself (Guest judge) Season 6, Episode: "The Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent Monologues"
TBA Lando Creator, executive producer, writer


  1. ^ a b "2014 Sundance Film Festival Announces Feature Film Awards". sundance.org. January 26, 2014. Archived from the original on January 29, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "10 Directors to Watch: Justin Simien Puts 'White People' in Perspective". Variety. December 17, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  3. ^ "Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 (database on-line)". Ancestry.com. 2005. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "With 'Dear White People,' Justin Simien wants to start conversations". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  5. ^ "Justin Simien Biography". 40th Seattle International Film Festival. Archived from the original on May 5, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  6. ^ a b "'Dear White People' director Justin Simien on what it means to be black — and 'black'". The Washington Post. October 10, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d "Dear White People: Art Imitating Life's Racism". The Root. Archived from the original on January 7, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  8. ^ "'Dear White People:' From Indiewire Project of the Year to Sundance Film Festival". Indiewire. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  9. ^ "'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.
  10. ^ "'Dear White People' to premiere at Sundance". Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  11. ^ "Sundance Award winner Dear White People releases first full trailer". Retrieved September 14, 2014.
  12. ^ Subers, Ray (October 19, 2014). "Weekend Report: 'Fury' Topples 'Gone Girl,' 'Birdman' Soars in Limited Release". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 22, 2014. Sundance hit Dear White People opened to $344,000 at 11 locations, which translates to a very strong $31,273 per-theater average.
  13. ^ "New Orleans Film Festival 2014". The Times-Picayune. September 19, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  14. ^ Lawler, Richard (May 5, 2016). "Netflix orders a series based on the movie 'Dear White People'". Engadget.
  15. ^ Debruge, Peter (March 13, 2017). "SXSW TV Review: 'Dear White People' on Netflix". Variety. Retrieved March 28, 2017.
  16. ^ Poniekwozik, James (April 27, 2017). "Dear White People Review". The New York Times . Retrieved February 16, 2019.
  17. ^ "'Dear White People' Renewed for Season 3 at Netflix". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  18. ^ Bennett, Anita (June 19, 2019). "'Dear White People' Season 3 Premiere Date Announced". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved June 19, 2019.
  19. ^ Ausiello, Michael (October 2, 2019). "Dear White People Renewed for Fourth and Final Season at Netflix". TVLine. Retrieved October 2, 2019.
  20. ^ Murphy, Mekado (October 26, 2020). "Making the Songs Pop in 'Bad Hair'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 28, 2020.
  21. ^ Siegel, Tatiana (December 4, 2019). "Sundance Unveils Female-Powered Lineup Featuring Taylor Swift, Gloria Steinem, Abortion Road Trip Drama". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  22. ^ "Bad Hair". Sundance Film Festival. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  23. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 31, 2020). "Big Sundance Deal: Justin Simien's 'Bad Hair' Near $8 Million + Worldwide Pact With Hulu; Theatrical Rollout Planned". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 31, 2020.
  24. ^ Agard, Chancellor (August 13, 2020). "A killer weave comes to life in first trailer for Justin Simien's Bad Hair". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  25. ^ Donnelly, Matt (October 13, 2020). "Justin Simien's 'Bad Hair' to Debut in Drive-Ins Before Hulu Premiere (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved October 23, 2020.
  26. ^ "Bad Hair (2020)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 25, 2020.
  27. ^ "Culture Machine - Client & Contact Info | IMDbPro".
  28. ^ "Justin Simien developing Lando Calrissian 'Star Wars' series for Disney+". EW.com. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
  29. ^ Sneider, Jeff (April 22, 2021). "Disney's 'Haunted Mansion' Movie Lands Director Justin Simien of 'Dear White People' Fame". Collider. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  30. ^ Porter, Rick (August 6, 2021). "Justin Simien Inks Overall Deal at Paramount TV Studios". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 7, 2021.

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