Writer/director Justin Simien's 2014 social satire Dear White People followed the stories of four black students at a predominantly white Ivy League college, exploring racial identity in a markedly-not-post-racial America. While serving as a comedy, the film tackled some interesting issues and was met with its share of acclaim. To the delight of many, it was announced earlier this year that Dear White People would be adapted into a half-hour comedy series for Netflix.
Production for this upcoming series begins this month and in addition to writing and directing the first ten episodes, Simien will remain heavily involved with the series. There is also word of who will be portraying the various roles from the film, including a returning cast member.
As reported by Deadline, Antoinette Robertson, DeRon Horton, John Patrick Amedori and Ashley Blaine Featherson have been announced as the series regulars for the series. Marque Richardson is also signed on for the series, reprising his role as Reggie from the original film. These actors join with previously announced cast members Brandon P. Bell, who also reprises his role as Class President Troy Fairbanks, and Logan Browning, who replaces the original film's Tessa Thompson as lead character Samantha "Sam" White, the host of a controversial radio show called 'Dear White People'.
Robertson will play Coco Conners, an econ major with “good hair”, as opposed to natural, who is no fan of Sam or her 'Dear White People' radio show. Horton is Lionel Higgins, a self-proclaimed nerd and unlikely hero who reported on a blackface party that rocks the campus. Despite this act, Lionel, being gay, must still navigate between black and gay cultures on campus. Amedori will portray Gabe, Sam’s intellectual equal who debates her ideas and is secretly having an affair with her. Gabe loves Sam enough to want their relationship to move forward, but must also deal with her racially-driven political movement.
Featherson is Joelle Brooks, Sam’s best friend. Joelle is smart, funny and charming, but prefers to stand on Sam's side instead of being her own person. However, that will lead to some other difficulties. Lastly, Richardson's reprisal of his role Reggie finds him back as Sam’s current (and public) boyfriend and right hand man. He provides a radical voice on campus, given his upbringing by a Black Panther. Smarter than he seems, Reggie uses his intelligence to make a difference on campus, in an attempt to live up to the expectations of his parents.
All of this sounds quite promising. While it was a polarizing film (mainly because of its title, rather than its content), Dear White People was a well-made and insightful look at race culture through the lens of an often very funny feature. The cast was certainly a big part of that, but with a couple returning cast members and Simien at the helm, it would be hard to imagine the filmmaker not securing a group of people who could capture a similar energy that made the 2014 film work.
Turning this concept into a 10-13 episode season of television could be tricky, especially given the potential to expand into even more seasons if the series is a success, but using race culture as a central theme does allow for a variety of ideas to be explore. An audience just has to be willing to hear a number of different voices tackling what can be an intensely debated subject. Good thing this series is a comedy.
Dear White People will debut on Netflix in 2017.