Justin Simien on His Secret Queer Superpower
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Justin Simien conquered television and now he’s taking the film world by storm.
By Sean Braswell
Filmmaker Justin Simien sat down with OZY’s co-founder and CEO on The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his new movie, Bad Hair, now streaming on Hulu. Here are some of the best bites from their hourlong conversation, which can be found on The Carlos Watson Show podcast feed.
On Reactions to Dear White People
Carlos Watson: I loved your title, Dear White People, because at the time it was such an announcement, right? How did people respond to that?
Justin Simien: There was a lot of anger. What I’ve realized is that “Dear White People,” really, it’s a personal litmus test. However you hear that phrase says something about you and who you imagine to be saying it because I’d have white friends that were like, “Oh my God, that’s amazing. I love it. I’m into it.” I’d have Black friends that like, “Got it, say it twice a day, thank you for this movie.” But no matter what race they were, I had people who were very upset about that title. I’ve had people of color say, “Well, why are you centering white people in your conversation?” … But what I’ve found is that it actually is an interesting way to tell just where you’re at on race and how you think Black people talk because the truth is that the words “Dear White People” are incredibly friendly. What letter doesn’t begin with “Dear”? It could be a thank-you note, who knows?
On His New Movie Bad Hair
CW: Did you enjoy making that movie?
JS: That movie really started with me kind of laughing about the concept like, “Oh gosh, that would make a crazy movie,” but just sort of throwing it away. But then it was, it became the idea that, it kept me up at night because my first thought was like, “You can’t do that.” And then this other part of my brain is like, “No, but what if you did that though? And maybe you snuck that into it.” And there was this moment really early on when I realized, “Oh my God, I would love to make a horror movie, I would love to make a psychological thriller. I’ve known I wanted it to be a filmmaker since I was a kid. And I’ve loved horror movies since I was a kid. Why has it never hit me to make one before?”
On His Queer Superpower
CW: If you were giving your younger self a little piece of advice about how to go from here to there, what would you say to him?
JS: I would tell him that your queerness is your superpower, and to not be afraid of it, and to not wait to get to know that part of yourself. Because when I think about the things that people celebrate me for, it comes out of that same queer spirit. It’s not about sexuality, it’s about the fact that as a queer person, I have to integrate and blend things that the rest of the world thinks don’t really go together. … I had to be a Black man and be queer, which is a whole thing that was definitely not being taught, no one was teaching me how to do that growing up in the South. … And there’s a part of me that understands that there’s something special when you put things together, that maybe the rest of the world doesn’t get what they have to do with each other. And truly, it might feel esoteric, but that is where so much of my voice as an artist really does come from. It’s a wellspring for me.