When Justin Simien set out to make "Dear White People" back in 2012, he never could have guessed that once the film got released -- if it got released -- the U.S. would be involved in some of its most prolific racial debates since the Civil Rights Movement.
But planned or not, that's exactly what happened, though Simien told MTV News that his intention was less about dropping an anvil on our culture, like a character says in his film, and more about finally seeing people who were similar to himself on the big screen. And that's exactly what "Dear White People" -- which focuses on four diverse black characters navigating life in a predominantly white university -- accomplishes.
"I lot of people have commented about how uncanny it is that the movie came out at this time, especially when they find out that I've actually been working on it for eight years," Simien said. "It just really is a matter of timing. On the other hand... if you don't see yourself and your story in the culture, you have to put it there. I didn't see my story in the culture."
Indeed, Tyler Perry aside, many of the movies about black lives that "make it" nowadays are like "Selma" and "12 Years a Slave" -- movies that, per Simien, have a great place in our cinematic culture, but do not reflect the modern day black experience like his (hilarious) college flick does.
"The slavery and civil rights epics certainly have a place in cinematic history, but the experience of being black now is something that I wanted to talk about, and it just wasn't in the culture," Simien continued. "I wasn't 'Precious,' and I wasn't '12 Years a Slave.' Those black experiences are interesting and moving and ground-breaking, but they weren't my experience. In an America that's increasingly multi-culture and increasingly diverse, it's important that all of our stories be out there in the culture. It's really important to see yourself in the culture somewhere. It lets you know that you belong."
And, on that topic, Simien notes that -- despite the film's title -- "Dear White People" is not what some vocal Twitter dissenters (who haven't seen the film) say it is.
"I tell stories about the human condition," Simien continued. "It's from a black point of view, but it's for everybody... If we're talking about who the film is marketed to, I think young, black Americans -- that's the first audience. People who are open to and interested in those issues, that's an easy secondary audience, but truly... the film's title is not meant to be all encompassing, it refers to a radio show within the world of the film called 'Dear White People' which, frankly, the characters in the film don't even agree on whether or not they like the show, or whether it should exist."
This is one of the many great things about "Dear White People" -- that it doesn't set out to judge its characters or define them by a simple label that everyone can understand. Instead, it's a "rumination on black culture," per Simien, that brings up some messy, complicated issues in a very relatable way. Though, to be fair, "complicated" is the only real way to discuss issues of race.
"I think that if you watch a film about race and you walk out feeling like you have the answers and you walk out feeling good, that movie didn't tell you the truth," Simien concluded. "In some way it left something out. The issue is too big, it's too complicated, it's too wrought with contradiction, it's too wrought with emotionally charged feelings... there's no possible way you could address the subject and get an answer in an hour and 45 minutes."
"Dear White People" is currently available on DVD and OnDemand.