One of the latest Netflix original series, “Dear White People,” comes three years after the release of the film with the same name. Writer and director Justin Simien, ’05 film and television production alum, began working on the movie’s script while he was a student at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and has continued to be involved in the Netflix series.
However, Simien is not the only link between “Dear White People” and Chapman. Cindy Nguyen, ’14 theatre performance major, played the role of Annie, appearing in the seventh episode of season one.
“I got the audition through my agent and manager,” Nguyen said. “I previously auditioned for the other Asian part, Ikumi, and they brought me back for Annie.”
Nguyen said that she was aware of the show’s connection to Chapman through Simien before landing the role, but that she worked hard to get it.
“Justin Simien is every ounce of passion and realness you’d expect,” Nguyen said. “He was there on set with me that day, and it was an honor to meet the guy who did all of this.”
While the show focuses on exploring the Black experience in higher education, it also includes the experiences of other minority groups such as Asians and the LGBTQIA+ community.
“It meant a lot to me to be part of the conversation about being a POC (person of color), and my struggles and journey at a predominantly white university, especially in the arts department,” Nguyen said. “I was one of three Asian students in the theatre department when I was attending. I had many feelings and thoughts of isolation and otherness, and I often felt like there was no place for me to speak about this uncomfortable feeling of being different than the majority.”
Kyle Butenhoff, a former junior political science major, also appears for one episode, in the role of White LeBron. Butenhoff said he landed the role through an audition and spent the majority of his time on set working with Simien and Wyatt Nash, the actor who played Kurt Fletcher.
“The on-set environment was incredible because not only did you have so many comedic minds playing around with options to find the perfect beats for the show, but Netflix was completely hands-off and let the creators deliver their vision,” Butenhoff said.
The show has been met with a largely positive response, scoring a 100 percent approval rating on the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes, a rare feat in the world of television. However, the show was also met with some backlash, with the hashtag #BoycottNetflix appearing after the premiere of the trailer back in February, as some believed the show to be “anti-white” and racially divisive. There is no word yet on whether the show will be renewed for a second season.