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Lions Roar : September 2017
friends,” Simien told Complex magazine. Dear White People’s protagonist, Samantha, would have the same childhood experience. Simien began drawing comics at a young age. As a teenager, he went to a performing arts high school and fell in love with classic cinema. He studied film at Chapman University, a pas- sion reflected in Dear White People’s white character, Gabe, a film studies major. He was taught that when a storyline chal- lenged him, he should try to understand why. “What are the unspoken assumptions?” asks Simien. “I was always encouraged to dig deeper. That’s why certain works pre- vail: they challenge the ego, generation after generation. I never say ‘I’ve got the answer.’ That’s foolish. The longer I’ve been meditating and chanting, the more I realize how much deeper you can go.” After graduation, Simien continued to develop his script while doing social media marketing at production companies. Simien’s script was originally called 2%—the percentage of Black students at the fictional Ivy League school, Winchester University. Also, by no coincidence, it’s the percentage of Black students at Simien’s alma mater. The idea for the title Dear White People came in 2009 from a friend, who joked via text message, “Dear White America, congratulations, you’ve ruined the ‘Single Ladies’ dance.” Simien wrote the line into the script, making Dear White America the title of his protagonist’s controversial radio show (eventually tweaked to Dear White People when Simien discovered there was already a book called Dear White America) . While Simien’s radio host protagonist, Samantha White, was meant to be a provocative character, Simien worried that the whole show would raise hackles, which wasn’t what he wanted. Originally, the script climaxed with white students at Winchester University throwing a “blackface” party. At the end of 2009, Simien deleted the party from the script, deciding it was too harsh. Months later, students at the University of California San Diego (another school with a 2% Black popula- tion) held a blackface party. Simien put the scene back into the script. In 2010, Simien started a Twitter account, @DearWhitePeo- ple, to test out lines for the script. Some jokes took off. Others landed with a thud. Most people thought Simien was trying to prove a point. They didn’t realize he was actually developing characters and was trying to understand how people would respond to them. “@DearWhitePeople is nothing more than blacker than thou propaganda,” said one Twitter user. That became a line that Coco, a Black woman in the show, throws at Samantha White. Some Twitter users asked, “What if there was a Dear Black Peo- ple ?”, which became a central question in the story. PHOTOBYRICKPROCTOR His racist critics, Simien says, “feel like they are strangers in their own land. Ironically, that is exactly how it feels to be an actual minority in this country. That feeling is something we can all relate to.” LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 37