Showrunners Justin Simien and Jaclyn Moore discuss the challenge of crafting an ending that was truthful but didn't "succumb to the usual fate of the tragic Black hero."

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Warning: This article contains spoilers for the fourth and final season of Dear White People.

What happened to Reggie?

That was probably one of the biggest questions viewers had as they watched Dear White People's musical final season (now streaming on Netflix). While the talented computer programmer played by Marque Richardson was around in the present-day story line, he was noticeably absent from the flash-forwards, which followed Samantha (Logan Browning) and Lionel (DeRon Horton) as they tried to develop a TV project about making the varsity show their senior year. Is Reggie alive? Did he go to jail?

Thankfully, Reggie didn't suffer a tragic fate. In the series finale's present timeline, a racist shooter stalked onto campus intent on attacking the Black students on opening night of the varsity show. Using an app he created to help Black people find safe spaces, Reggie, who became a gun owner midway through the season, got a bead on the white supremacist terrorist and shot him before he had the chance to attack anyone. While Reggie saved the day, he was forced into hiding after the incident because of all the harassment he received and he stopped talking to his friends.

That is, until they all reunited in the future to discuss the potential show Sam and Logan were working on, and Reggie, who married Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson), actually showed up at the meeting because it was time to re-enter the world. Unfortunately, the deal Troy (Brandon P. Bell) promised Sam and Lionel fell through, putting their potential show's future in jeopardy. However, that didn't matter. All that mattered was that they were all together again. In classic Dear White People fashion, the series ended with all the characters breaking the fourth wall to stare at the viewer.

Below, EW chats with co-showrunners Justin Simien and Jaclyn Moore about making Reggie a gun owner, their hopes for the show's legacy, and more.

Dear White People
Jemar Michael, Marque Richardson, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Logan Browning, Antoinette Robertson, DeRon Horton, and Courtney Sauls on 'Dear White People'
| Credit: LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you approach figuring out Reggie's ending?

JUSTIN SIMIEN: Well, I'll start with something Jaclyn said that was really important early on, because we came together and we were asking this very question, what to do with Reggie? And there's a bunch of reasons why that's a complicated thing to answer, but Jaclyn was like, "Reggie really is the heart of the show." Whatever we come to the show and start thinking about, whoever we identify with, Reggie sort of is always pulling at our heart. And it was important to me to not have him sort of succumb to the usual fate of the tragic Black hero, but at the same time, not really pull any punches in terms of telling the truth about what happens to Black men, whether or not they're brilliant, whether or not they are good at marketing themselves, whether or not they come up with the next big thing. At the end of the day, we are still treated as less than in this society. So how do we tell the truth about that without sort of perpetrating it? That was the conundrum that I brought to Jaclyn.

JACLYN MOORE: And I solved it. Racism done. We're done. [Laughs]

SIMIEN: [Laughs] I think we felt our way to this place of being honest about the fact that we are in no way, shape, or form even sort of arriving at the mountaintop. Like, let's keep it real. But perhaps we are in a place where, with all the trials and tribulations, it can be survived somehow, it can be sort of metabolized. We can find joy, we can find community, we can progress. I wanted that to be a truthful statement as well as a satisfying one. And that's where we landed.

One of the things that's tricky about Black stuff is that — it just is what it is, and I'll open it up to any marginalized community, it's true about queer stories [too] —no matter what you do, it's political. It's not just about the story about these people. It's not just about the human condition, or about the things that normally motivate a character journey. It is those things plus how is this going to be perceived in the world, in a world where the only way to really tell the truth about the Black experience is to sort of inundate ourselves with tragedy? That doesn't feel good. Because on the other side, art is supposed to heal us too. So it's like an extra wrench that I think every storyteller grappling with characters in a marginalized group [faces]. It's a tricky dance to play, but a good challenge though, because it really mirrored exactly what we were going through at the time.

I was surprised by Reggie's decision to buy a gun in the first place. Where did that idea and having him shoot an armed attacker come from?

MOORE: We were talking a lot about shadow selves.

SIMIEN: This Jungian concept that everybody, no matter how great they are, bad they are, whatever, we all have this part of ourselves that we haven't quite accepted or that we're unconscious to. And it sort of comes up when we have a temper tantrum or when we're stuck in traffic or being treated badly at a protest. It turns out one of the ways to heal one's self of trauma is to embrace, face, and integrate that shadow part. And so we kept breaking it down, well, what is the thing that scares Reggie the most? It is having this level of power. This gun has become such a crippling image in his head that whenever he thinks about it, he falls to his knees. What if the journey was, how does he take that image and make it make him stronger, use it to make himself stronger? And we just sort of began to land in this area that felt interesting, but also kind of dangerous, because as Jaclyn pointed out to us in that room, I remember Jaclyn, you were like, "But the spicy thing about it is that there's so much pro-gun rhetoric, but it's just for white people. And it's very clearly anti-Black. If you just poured it over to Black people and you start to have the kind of conversations that, say, the Black Panthers were having about gun ownership in the Black community, it just makes the issue very scary and undefined," and that felt like a Dear White People area to be in.

MOORE: I don't remember which season, but we had talked about doing a shooting on the campus at some point in a previous season, just because it's a huge part of college and school life now [with] this idea of lockdowns and drills. And this season it felt like it dovetailed with Reggie's core issue.

And I will say about the gun ownership side of it too, it's like, I transitioned during the middle of the season, which nobody noticed, it was very weird. [Laughs] But I was always very anti-gun, as a good liberal should be. But I will say that being a trans person in America, I've had beer bottles thrown at me, I've had people follow me down streets, I've been assaulted on streets. For the first time in my life, I'm seriously considering gun ownership in a classic self-defense kind of way. And I that is a mindf‑‑‑ when you come at this from a left-leaning political headspace, as most of our characters on the show do. And it's not to say it's good, bad or indifferent, but there's a reason why the Black Panthers advocated gun ownership, there's a reason why marginalized communities feel the need to protect themselves. It's not necessarily a political calculation at some point. So often these things become theoretical political conversations, when for a lot of the people who are participating in them, specifically a lot of people who are not well-to-do white people — who are they protecting themselves from, really? — these are more life-and-death thoughts, and it's complicated and nuanced.

SIMIEN: I couldn't really articulate it at first, but especially this season, I found myself and all of us articulating it more and more: The show really forces viewers to deal with situations where multiple things are true that seem contradictory. Both there not being any gun control leads to situations in which Reggie needs a gun, grappling with that, and how that sort of idea fits in different circumstances.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
Marque Richardson on 'Dear White People'
| Credit: NETFLIX

In an interview with Vulture last year, Justin, you said Dear White People "really is a diary of the Black experience of this moment in time from the mid-2010s to right now. So I have come to some conclusions in that time period about what's important to me in my life." What conclusions did you and Jaclyn end up reaching that you wanted to convey in the finale?

SIMIEN: I was sort of feeling really disillusioned around that time when we were writing it. Even though I hadn't really thought about it in this way, I had basically been primed to believe that success, specifically capitalistic success, like career success, financial success, following my dream, etc., were the keys to overcome, frankly, my oppression. I mean, just to put it plainly. Like all of the things that really made walking around the world as a Black gay man really hard, if I just succeed and achieve the American dream, I can overcome those things. Well, turns out, not true. Turns out all the Behind the Musics were right. It doesn't solve all your problems. [Laughs]

So I was in a "So what do I do now?" kind of a space. Because I love telling stories, I love getting to do what I do, but there are aspects of this industry that I hate, and there are aspects of my personal politics and my passions and beliefs that don't really fit so neatly with this capitalistic mandate to be seen by as many people as possible, and to have as much of a following as possible, and to please everybody all the time. Just, they don't go together. So how do you make those choices? How do you find joy? How do I live my dream and be okay and not be out on the street, but also at the same time not totally just become a product that just gets bought and sold around? That was my journey, literally, during that time. And so it became the characters' as well.

MOORE: Both Justin and I are at points in our careers that I think if you had told us 10 years ago that we would be here, we would think we'd be really happy. And it's not that I'm not happy, but it's that old thing where it's like, you can love the industry, but the industry's never going to love you back. That's, I think, something that we really came to, and the idea that you're not going to find deliverance in succeeding and in awards. And I mean, not that we would know. [Laughs]

SIMIEN: I mean, I'm down to find out!

MOORE: Maybe that's where the deliverance comes from! But you're not going to find real contentment in those things. And so I think that's something that really informed a lot of, especially the Sam, Gabe, and Troy [stories] in the future: What does success get you in the end? What does real success look like?

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
Logan Browning (center) on 'Dear White People'
| Credit: LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX

What were the origins of the original song they sang at the end?

SIMIEN: Well first of all, Siedah Garrett is a genius who wrote the one original song, "Together All The Way." I told her, "I want something that when we first hear it, it just sounds like commercial jingle nonsense." Like it is cloying and irritating and too on-the-nose, but then when it is sung earnestly at the end, it actually hits us. Because the rub is that this thing that Sam created to make money, that has not allowed her to live up to her potential, actually becomes very useful for her. I felt that during the time of making the show — because while we were going back and watching Dear White People to prepare for the final season — that's when racism was discovered and the George Floyd protests began, and I was realizing it was to have the damn show that we made to watch, to sustain me emotionally. And I saw it in a way that I never saw it before.

MOORE: I think that's exactly right, is that at the end of the day, there is value in it. And it's hard not to see it as a step on a journey, but instead taking a step back and being like, "Well, maybe this little thing we made is okay. And maybe that's all we can do."

SIMIEN: Yeah. Maybe the effort is enough, is what I think we're trying to posit. And it really is a maybe, because we don't know.

Related content:

Dear White People (TV series)

type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 4
rating
genre
creator
  • Justin Simien
network
  • Netflix

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