A quick update for those of you following Dear White People, the upcoming first film from writer-director Justin Simien about the trials of a group of black students at a mostly white Ivy League university. After successfully raising production funds through both crowdfunding and independent sources, the movie is now being filmed in Minneapolis, MN.
Justin will return to S&A soon with his next installment for the Shadow & Act Filmmaker Diary Series. In the mean time, the production team checked in about what’s happening with the project.
Firstly, the principal cast has been confirmed as Tessa Thompson (Mississippi Damned, For Colored Girls), Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris, Peeples), Teyonah Parris (Mad Men), and Dennis Haysbert. Brandon Bell and Marque Richardson, who appeared in the movie’s original concept trailer, reprise co-starring roles while Issa Rae also makes a cameo appearance.
Topher Osborn, who shot the feature documentary An African Election as well as Julian Breece’s ITVS Futurestates short The Living, serves as DP.
As for what to expect from the movie, it’s worth noting that it’s fully funded independently and the production team has retained creative control. So the look and feel will likely be similar to the concept trailer released last year, which was also shot by Osborn.
Producer Lena Waithe explained that some of the most challenging scenes to film so far have been those that appeared in the original trailer, such as the opening where students criticize the state of black cinema in front of the box office. Because of the viral response to the trailer there’s some pressure to live up to it with the movie itself. There’s also a scene that takes place in the dining hall where different groups – the militant “Bofros” and the more conservative black students – speak their piece about what it means to be black in America, which was important to get right.
But the filmmakers say that shooting is going incredibly well, energy is high, and the film could possibly provide a breakout role for Tessa Thompson. As the bi-racial militant character Sam White, whose radio show gives the film its title, Thompson anchors the movie in a role very different from what she’s played so far.