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Justin Simien on the Most Difficult Scene He Wrote for Dear White People

The Toughest Scene I Wrote: Dear White People’s Tricky Party-Planning

The blackface party scene was really tough to write. It's a multi-protagonist story, and there are so many ways to do that. One way is to sort of let every character have their own movie, and as the story progresses, we bounce around between them — but because of story economics and the economics of getting the movie made under 107 pages, I opted for the Do the Right Thing approach, where after each major act break in the movie, we get a different protagonist. Sam's character brings us into Act Two, Troy and Coco share the midpoint of the film, and Lionel is the one who actually has the big revelation that brings us into Act Three.

That's tricky, though, because all of those characters still have to pay off in the party scene. To do that organically, where it's believable that they all have some kind of character awakening on the same night … well, it's not about that one scene. It's about making sure that all of those moments are very well-planted throughout the story so that the payoff feels authentic and earned. That was one of the many reasons that scene was tricky, because when I got to it and it wasn't working, it's because a million things before it weren't working, so I would try to do drafts just for certain characters. I would read the script just for Sam, just for Lionel, just for Troy or Coco — and then read it as a whole to see if it was working.

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