Dear White People creator on those surprising season 2 cameos
Warning: This post contains spoilers from Dear White People season 2. Read at your own risk!
Lena Waithe, a producer on the original Dear White People movie, isn’t the only person from the film to guest-star on Dear White People season 2.
In the incisive Netflix satire’s second season, creator Justin Simien introduced two new talking head characters we often saw on the televisions at Winchester: A black, liberal scholar named Carson Rhodes, and his opponent, a black right-wing personality named Rikki Carter, who actually visits Winchester in the season 2 finale to address the students. And he recruited two very familiar faces to play them. Tyler James Williams (Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders), who played Lionel Higgins in the 2014 indie, cameos as Carson, and the original Samantha White herself, Tessa Thompson (Westworld), plays Rikki Carter — a.k.a. the antithesis of Winchester firebrand Samantha White.
“We definitely had this idea of a speaker coming to Winchester and that speaker sort of having an opponent out there in the public,” Simien tells EW of introducing these two new characters. “The idea of Tessa and Tyler’s characters was there, but really, since the movie, I’ve wanted to include the original cast because it’s all love. It came down to who was available and a bunch of things that weren’t about whether or not they wanted to be part of the project. There’s just been a genuine love of the show, and we all keep in touch, so it was just like, ‘How fun would it be if you guys came in?'”
Logan Browning, who portrays Sam on the TV series, actually ends up coming face-to-face with Rikki in the season finale. Sam ventures backstage to confront Ricki but ends up discovering that they may be a bit more similar than she would like to admit. Simien wrote this scene hoping Thompson would play Ricki even before it was confirmed she would be able to.
“I felt like that kind of doppelgänger thing and seeing herself in someone she despises was really, really important,” he says. “There was no better way to do it than to literally have her look at her former self. I’m just glad it all worked out.”
For Simien, Sam and Rikki’s conversation was all about “getting caught up in a role.” Right now, Sam believes she’s just being herself on her radio show and helping the movement, but Rikki points out that she’s on the verge of losing herself and becoming a character, or what white culture wants her to be.
“I think it’s also so easy to get lost having to always clap back and respond to every single Twitter thing, everywhere you go having to put on the persona. It’s a different kind of oppression,” says Simien. “I wanted to show Sam speaking from the heart and saying something she means, but then also being trapped by that because then she can’t grow. There’s this idea of like, ‘I’m a brand,’ and that actually is a terrible way to live your life because a brand doesn’t change. People change. You’re supposed to change. I just wanted to talk about how that can become a trap and become another way of oppressing yourself if you let it get out of hand. That’s not to say she’s going to stick with the decision she’s made, by the way, but I do think she needed to see what she could become.”
This fear of being trapped by your brand is at least part of the reason why Simien is currently working on a satirical horror movie called Bad Hair, which is about an ambitious young woman who discovers that the weave she got to survive in the music television industry may have a mind of its own.
“As a filmmaker, I’m just really into different genres and different kinds of storytelling, and Dear White People is so specific that I’m eager to show what I can do outside of that particular milieu because I think the assumption is that this is my style and this is how I will always direct,” says Simien, who wrote the movie when Dear White People went to Sundance. “I don’t think directors choose their styles. I think you sort of do what you do and then people decide what your style is. Especially as a director of color, it’s also important for me to not stay in any kind of box because everyone wants you to stay in the box, whatever that is.”
Simien’s other motivation behind doing Bad Hair is a lifelong love of horror movies. “I grew up on genre. Horror movies were really the first movies that left an impact on my mind, thanks to my aunt,” he says. “I was watching Nightmare on Elm Street at a far too young age. So, it’s a tribute to that, too — what about cinema I fell in love with first.”
Dear White People season 2 is available to stream on Netflix now.