Co-showrunners Justin Simien and Jaclyn Moore break down a script page featuring the musical debut of a new character.


A dream of the '90s is alive at Winchester University, because Dear White People is transforming into a throwback jukebox musical for its fourth and final season.

"I wanted to go out with a bang," creator/co-showrunner Justin Simien tells EW. More substantially, the producer ended up finding comfort in this ambitious twist. "Frankly, I needed something really joyful to come to work and do. The show is always sort of a bit of a backdoor diary for me. And some of the things that I was really grappling with [were like], how much fun am I having? If this is success, and I fought really hard for it, and I'm working really hard to keep it, when does it become not exhausting? When does it become joyful? When am I not just mining my own trauma? And so the characters began to grapple with that in all of my iterations this season. And musicals, for me, have always been best suited for those kinds of scenarios."

Fall TV Preview - Dear White People
Logan Browning and John Patrick Amedori in 'Dear White People.'
| Credit: Netflix

Set during the characters' senior year at the fictional Ivy League institution, the Netflix satire's latest volume follows firebrand radio host and aspiring filmmaker Samantha White (Logan Browning) as they look toward the future and work on the Varsity Show, the annual student-created and produced musical about Winchester. The season includes a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic numbers, and it all begins with Tevin Campbell's "Round and Round" in the premiere.

Here, Simien and co-showrunner/EP Jaclyn Moore share a script page that reveals Sam and Gabe's (John Patrick Amedori) performance of that Prince-produced song while on their to a career fair and introduces an important new character. Read the scene below, and then check out their annotations under it.

Dear White People script
Credit: Netflix

A. "There's something about the song that is full of possibilities," says Simien, who treated this sequence like a classic "I want" moment and was inspired by Beauty and the Beast's "Belle." "It just felt like the beginning of a musical. I really wanted to capture, at the start of this, their enthusiasm and passion for going out in the world, facing struggles, and doing."

B. "Up until this point, the only singing in the episode has been someone at the piano — the singing [exists] in the world of the show," says Moore. "This is the first moment where we are in a full musical reality of dancers everywhere, with dialogue and lyrics interspersed, and the entire campus coming alive."

C. A new addition to the series, Iesha Vital (Joi Liayé), is a freshman activist at Winchester. "Our characters jokingly refer to Iesha as 'New Sam,'" says Moore Adds Simien: "She's that next generation. Her activism is a bit louder than Sam's — it doesn't care as much about the establishment, which is who Sam was when we first meet her in the movie and at the beginning of the series."

Moore went on to tease Sam and Iesha's contentious dynamic. "What we wanted to explore is something that I think we've all sort of felt at times in our lives, which is that you begin your life railing against the system," says Moore. "[Then] at some point, the system tries to co-opt you, and there will be other people railing against you. Putting it another way: We always said in the [writers] room, at one point Nancy Pelosi was someone else's AOC. And who knows, 40 years from now, there's going to be somebody who's the AOC to AOC."

D. "It also has melancholy [undertones]," says Simien. "Because going round and round doesn't feel like going forward. It doesn't feel like growing up; it feels like we're spinning our wheels. So you've got this really optimistic song, but if you really follow what it's saying, there's a note of sadness in there, too."

Dear White People's 10-episode final season premieres Wednesday on Netflix.

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Dear White People (TV series)

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