Dear White People

Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions

The Sundance Film Festival may serve as a solid proving ground for wrenching dramas about to break into the big time – think Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild, or Fruitvale, and that’s just top-of-head, recent memory stuff – but the January fest also provides a venue for some very funny comedies with big star power and fresh ideas to bolster them. Sure, it’s easy to find plenty of tearjerkers in the festival’s stacked program, but lots of comedic talents also bring some lighter fare to the festival each year.

Yet, that doesn’t always mean that what makes audiences giggle in Park City will translate to a mainstream crowd some months down the road – so here’s hoping that the latest satirical comedy hit from this year’s Sundance will win over bigger crowds when it hits theaters later this year. This year’s Special Jury Award winner for Breakthrough Talent, Justin Simien’s hilarious and very well-received Dear White People, has just been picked up by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, with the distribution duo planning to release the satire later this year.

As Deadline tells it, Simien’s first film “takes a satirical look at racial politics among the student body at a fictional Ivy League school where four students navigate issues of black militancy, post-racism, and the commodification of black culture on campus.” The film stars Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris), Tessa Thompson (Veronica Mars), Teyonah Parris (Mad Men), and Brandon P. Bell (Hollywood Heights), among others.

The film wasn’t the only satire to hit this year’s festival — Ryan Reynolds also starred in Marjane Satrapi‘s The Voices, which Lionsgate also picked up. The film’s darker subject matter (Reynolds plays a serial killer whose animals “talk” to him) might not spell mainstream appeal, however, and Dear White People looks to have a better chance at grabbing new fans. Elsewhere, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler starred in They Came Together, a send up of romantic comedies that bowed at the festival back in January, though the David Wain project already had plenty of buzz on it before its premiere, thanks to its well-known stars.

Sundance doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to pushing its best satires into big release, though, and one of the festival’s biggest disasters in recent memory, Jacob Aaron Estes‘ The Details, had the potential to become a smash hit, thanks to stars like Tobey Maguire and Elizabeth Banks. The send-up of suburban life was purchased by The Weinstein Company for a gobsmacking $8m back at the 2011 festival, but it was silently released into theaters in a very small (and quiet) limited release. The film made less than $100,000 in two weeks, before being pulled. 

Yet things have been picking up over the years, with other dark satires like The Comedy and out-and-out modern classic In the Loop picking up solid accolades both at the fest and in regular release, even they weren’t huge moneymakers. Could Dear White People break the mold and become a smash satirical hit for Sundance?

Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions are planning a fall release for the film.

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