In May, Netflix announced it had ordered a new comedy series based on Justin Simien’s critically-acclaimed independent film, Dear White People. There was little backlash at the time, but following the debut teaser trailer for the series at an event in New York yesterday, Simien has become the target of racist backlash.
Almost immediately after Netflix debuted the trailer, many people who identify as conservatives began tweeted about Dear White People, calling the show propaganda for a black audience and an attack on white people. More tweeted at both Simien and Netflix threatening to cancel their accounts over the show’s announcement.
Dear White People follows a group of students at an Ivy League university who are living in a “post-racial” world. The satirical series will pick up directly where the 2014 film ended. According to a press release from Netflix, Dear White People will follow a new group of “students of color as they navigate a diverse landscape of social injustice, cultural bias, political correctness (or lack thereof) and sometimes misguided activism in the millennial age.” Netflix has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment on the situation, but Simien has been active in responding to those who have sought him out to insult him or make vulgar comments in regards to the series.
Okay this is a record. It took less than 4 minutes for people to be totally in their feelings over a completely benign date announcement pic.twitter.com/Ycx1bV6QYd— Justin Simien (@JSim07) February 8, 2017
Simien responded for quite some time to trolls and harassing messages before providing a statement on the insults being forwarded to Netflix and himself. Simien said when the original trailer dropped for the film, the racist and hateful messages left in the comments section on YouTube hurt, but now he feels encouraged to create more stories about women of color and other minorities who do not get to be represented on film in ways white men and women do.
“I want those who are chronically unseen in the culture to feel seen,” Simien wrote. “And I want those willing to extend empathy to experiences unlike theirs to understand their humanity more deeply.”
Simien continued a few hours later, acknowledging the reason he believes most white men and women feel threatened by Dear White People is because they’re not used to seeing a “woman of color refer to white people en masse. Something she dare not be allowed in decades past.” He also called out the majority of conservatives who were tweeting him about their displeasure with the show, bringing up current conversations happening in the political sphere between liberals and conservatives.
Conservatives: What a bunch of whiney liberal snowflakes protesting everything!— Justin Simien (@JSim07) February 8, 2017
Netflix: Dear White People coming in April!
Lionsgate’s executive vice president of TV, Chris Selak, confirmed in a previous press release that the studio was proud of Simien’s dedication to talking about important topics like race in America.
“We’re proud to expand our partnership with our friends at Netflix on a comedy that tackles racial themes with a combination of intelligence, honesty, irreverence and wit,” Selak said. “Justin and the rest of the creative team have an opportunity to expand this world and bring its timely and universal themes to a global television audience.”
In a 2014 interview, Simien brought up the reverse racism criticism that’s addressed in the film. Dear White People examines the stereotypes black people still have to contend with and Simien uses the debate over the existence of reverse racism to point out privileges that white people have today.
“It makes me very sad that these communities who are grouping together for a moment are coming under attack from a majority who claims that they are somehow being ‘reverse racist,’” Simien told The Telegraph. "If it's not affecting you, it's not racism. That's not how it works
The controversy led to Dear White People being the most viewed announcement teaser for a Netflix series in the network’s history. Simien added on Twitter that despite having to put up with people who were threatening to cancel their accounts and sending racist tweets to him, he was happy the show was getting more attention.
Dear White People will premiere on April 28. All 10 episodes will be available stream on Netflix at once.