By now, Dear White People is well beyond the plot of Simien's 2014 film. Season 1 stuck to the movie's narrative about a blackface party held at Winchester University, a fictional Ivy League school, taking time to explore each character's backstory and follow them before and after the offensive event. In Season 2, the characters deal with the fallout of a climactic protest that ends in chaos. Some storytellers might find the thought of divesting from familiar ground daunting, but for Simien (who first began working on the television adaptation back in 2015), the chance to take the series to new places sounded exciting. "It was liberating to move past it, and to know that I don't have to set people up. We know enough about them to go on the journey, and to move on to now."
Much has happened in the real world during the year dividing Season 1 and Season 2, of course, and because Dear White People's material explicitly engages the real world, figuring out what to weave into Season 2's fabric was a Herculean task. "The hard part is what not to include," Simien admits. "I think that the magic trick, what I feel like we pull off, is when you watch Dear White People, you feel like the show is so topical, because all these characters are just constantly articulating and talking about current events and contextualizing themselves through current events.
"But the truth is that that's a bit of a sleight of hand," he continues. "Oftentimes what the characters are talking about, they're talking about it to hide something else that the scene is actually dealing with, something else that's actually going on in the scene." One illustration of that dynamic pops up in Season 2's third chapter, as the type-A and highly accomplished Coco (Antoinette Robinson) has a tete-a-tete with her friend, Muffy (Caitlin Carver). When Muffy laments the difficulties of being a woman in 2018 America, Coco quickly and cooly reminds her of the added difficulty of being black in 2018 America. "There's a line where Coco says, 'Oh what's that bag, is that Michael Kors?' And [Muffy's] very offended by that, and she says, 'No, it's Hermès.'
"Of course, the point that Coco is trying to make is, 'Bitch, you don't really have it that bad' -- excuse my French, that's the way Coco would say it," Simien laughs. "'You don't really have it that bad, because you still have a kind of privilege.' That's what the scene is really about." Therein lies the challenge of Dear White People: Finding the underlying meaning of each scene, and deciding where it will drive the characters: "We just try to get really specific about that, and drill down to that universal story that we're telling that would work in any cultural context."