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Justin Simien (born 7 May 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.[2] Simien has also been named to Variety magazine's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.[3]

Justin Simien
Justin Simien at Sundance 2014 speaking.jpg
Justin Simien speaking at Sundance Film Festival
Born (1983-05-07) May 7, 1983 (age 34)[1]
Houston, Texas, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater Chapman University
Occupation Film director, screenwriter
Awards U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent


Early lifeEdit

Simien was born on 7 May 1983 in Houston, Texas. He is the son of Anna Simien.[1] 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[2] and the "Audience Award" at the 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival.[13] Simien has also been named to Variety magazine's 2013 "10 Directors to Watch" list.[3]

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 10 episodes to be written by Simien.[14]


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 among his influences Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman.[7]

Personal lifeEdit

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


  1. ^ a b "Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997 (database on-line)". 2005. Retrieved 22 Oct 2014. (Subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ a b "2014 Sundance Film Festival Announces Feature Film Awards". January 26, 2014. Archived from the original on January 29, 2014. Retrieved 2014-10-12. 
  3. ^ a b "10 Directors to Watch: Justin Simien Puts 'White People' in Perspective". Variety. December 17, 2013. Retrieved 2014-10-12. 
  4. ^ a b "With 'Dear White People,' Justin Simien wants to start conversations". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Justin Simien Biography". 40th Seattle International Film Festival. Retrieved 12 October 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 12 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Dear White People: Art Imitating Life's Racism". The Root. Archived from the original on 7 January 2015. Retrieved 12 October 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. 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 (19 Oct 2014). "Weekend Report: 'Fury' Topples 'Gone Girl,' 'Birdman' Soars in Limited Release". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 22 Oct 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 2014-10-12. 
  14. ^ Lawler, Richard (May 5, 2016). "Netflix orders a series based on the movie 'Dear White People'". Engadget. 

External linksEdit