P / P Interview: Justin Simien Talks Inspiration and Black Identity in Horror Genre

Publik / Private Founder, Jordannah Elizabeth and Justin Simien at Sundance Film Festival 2020

Editor’s Note: We want to send warm appreciation to Sundance Institute and the Press Inclusion Initiative for inviting me to Sundance Film Festival. I took the opportunity seriously and was able to engage in some very engaging conversations with the world’s leading Black independent filmmakers and writers. Justin Simien is one of those people. This interview with Justin was one of the highlights of the festival for me. The world premiere of his upcoming film, Bad Hair brought a very complex and scary examination of the Black female identified experience in modern American culture. After witnessing and genuinely appreciating the success of Dear White People, I wanted to talk to Justin about his thought process, and the creative and aesthetic reasoning behind the creation of his new horror film.


Filmmaker, Justin Simien made waves with his debut film Dear White People in 2014 after winning the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent at the Sundance Film Festival. The comedy that chronicles the experiences of Black colleges students attending a predominantly white, Ivy League college went on to become a Netflix original series, making Justin a successful television writer. This year. Simien returned to Sundance Film Festival 2020 with the world premiere of his complex horror/comedy film entitled Bad Hair.

Bad Hair takes place in Los Angeles in the 1980s, when New Jack Swing was taking over the airwaves in Black culture and ushered a new hair technique called the “weave”. When lead actress Elle Lorraine (Anna) is pressured by her boss played by Vanessa Williams to straighten her natural hair. After she is made over by an evil hair stylist played by Laverne Cox, a nightmare of her hellish weave unfolds.

Acted by an impressive ensemble cast which includes, Lena Waithe, Kelly Rowland, Usher, Blair Underwood and James Van Der Beek, this film tackles several different intercultural issues that Black woman face like good hair vs. bad hair, colorism, professional discrimination, generational oppression and slave folklore.

Justin Simien sat down with Publik / Private 48 hours after the sold out premiere of Bad Hair in Park City, Utah Sundance Film Festival 2020. He talks about the complicity of Black identity in film, including his own, which horror films influenced Bad Hair and how Black woman play a leading role in his cinematic endeavors.

After having success in comedy/drama, what made you pursue making a complex Black horror film?

[Bad Hair] does a lot and is trying to present a lot. So, I wanted people to come to it from their own subjective experiences. When you’re coming to something like Sundance, the conventional wisdom is like, “Drop it. See what the people say and what they do.” 

Did your initial inspiration for this film come upon you the same way as Dear White People did?

I think so. I think the same thing that makes me scared is the same thing that makes me want to do something. I feel like what I can’t help as a filmmaker is to go to the spaces that feel unexplored and edgy. If you look at classical psychological thrillers or horror movies, which of course, are white because that’s the dominant society, but if you look at Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, Body Snatchers or The Shining, the actual thrills of the movies are fun but the things that keep me up at night are the things that the films are saying about life.

I feel like Rosemary’s Baby is about the vulnerability of a woman who has the responsibility of giving life and literally keeping the species together. But while she’s in the most vulnerable stage of a woman’s life, giving birth, she is at the whim of all of these men. And The Shining, which is a film I’ll never stop watching, means something new to me the more I watch it. That’s really something powerful that this genre can take on these deeper topics, but they do it subconsciously. They do it to you in a sneaky way. They interrogate society and popular opinions through the guise of a thrill ride. I thought it would be really interesting to do that, but to take it to a Black place. Black people traditionally have not been able to make movies like this. And if we do, we’re not able to make it at a big scale. Continue reading


P / P Master Class Six: Handwriting Sharpens Your Creative Talent

JE’s personal handwriting and notebook.

I have been publishing excerpts from Shakespeare on Publik / Private for a reason. I believe handwriting and transcribing texts is the best way to morph your raw creative talent into a disciplined, patient way towards long form writing. 

Carry two notebooks and three pens everywhere you go.

One notebook should be for journaling, story and lyrical ideas. The other notebook should be for handwriting schedules and practical life notes (accounting, grocery list and important contacts). Carry three pens because at least one isn’t going to function well after being jostled around in your backpack, laptop bag or purse.

When you sit down to work, write in your notebook before you use your computer.

Writing in your notebooks will allow you to learn to have the discipline to not depend on your computer for every task you have in life. If you have your calendar and all your writing ideas solely on your laptop or in the cloud, you will not be able to access your work if you don’t have a device on you. I’ve seen creative and professionals and writers have their computers malfunction, leaving them without a way to work. Don’t put yourself in this position. Continue reading

P / P Excerpts: The First Words of Love’s Labour’s Lost & Romeo and Juliet

Photo credit, left: fanpop,center: bfi.org.uk, right: shakespearetavern







Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.

   Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

   A pair of star-crost lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

   Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

   And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, naught could re-

   Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage; [move,

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.






Narrative.  A park with a palace in it.



KING. Continue reading

P / P Master Class Five: Deep Work

Photo Credit: The 6 Productivity Strategies to Integrate Deep Work into Your Professional Lives

I learned the term Deep Work from my older brother. He gets up every morning, exercises and listens to informational and motivational videos on how to create wealth and work more efficiently. I was impressed by his morning routine when he came to town to visit.1

He got up at about 9 am, while I got up between 6 and 8 am. My routine is somewhat similar to my brother’s. I get up, make my bed, make coffee, clean my apartment (a task I consider exercise) and begin to write. He has protein shakes in the morning, I cook eggs and salmon or something healthy.

The one thing that differs between me and my brother’s routine is that he is a bit more of a positive thinker because he listens to affirmations every day. I, during the time he came to visit me, was fairly depressed. Even though we both have our own way of doing things, it all sits under the umbrella of “non distraction,” ie Deep Work.

Our emotional states don’t keep us from staying on track when it comes to having a focused beginning of the day that makes our work schedules run smoothly. There is a level of isolation that comes with Deep Work. Weeding out distractions from social media, social conflicts, unproductive work processes and conversations is extremely important for life/work efficiency.


The term Deep Work is defined in depth in the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

When I heard the audiobook of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World playing through the door of my guest room where my brother was I was staying, I had to knock on the door and inquire about the book. My brother explained a bit about it while he was doing jumping jacks.I felt like the book was speaking to me. I’ve always done deep work, but never realized it was such a rare way of working in the modern age.

P / P Master Class Five: Deep Work


Don’t Think of Deep Work as a Privileged Pursuit

It’s okay if you don’t have the money to rent a cabin in some remote place to focus on your novel.  There are quiet rooms in most public libraries, afforded work spaces you can rent in your own city and disciplined practices like working early or late at night to avoid the hustle and bustle of your home and neighborhoods.

You don’t have to have money to find solace, but you will have to make changes and pursue it. Continue reading

P / P Excerpt: King Richard II with Commentary

Photo Credit: Prisoners of Eternity

“Richard II: The Boy who would be King”

[P / P Edit One] Editor’s Note: In my life, Shakespeare’s writing is essential when it comes to building, training and understand the root of writing the key element of a story. It is not about color, origin, race of creed, it is about learning how to be a great Western writer. It is also great to simply be spectator of Shakespeare’s plays and how they influenced the world. There is nothing wrong with that. But as I worked on manuscripts over the years, Shakespeare’s output and collection of writing has crept up and returned again and again, becoming a foundation when I begin to write in a voice and language that has a breadth, emotional width and situational range.

Should my and everyone’s work be inspired by Shakespeare? Of course not, anyone can pick and choose when they are ready to delve into the poet and playwright’s work and furthermore, choose what style they want to use when researching and reading to prepare to personally write long form.

Below is a passage from King Richard II. It jumped out at me and challenged me as I have been transcribing passages by hand from the play for the last couple of months. It was challenging because this passage is long and the book is pocket sized, so the type it very small. It took concentration to complete. This is the first time I have typed a transcription from Richard the II.

King Richard is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

King Richard II

Act V

[Scene V. Pomfret Castle.]

Enter Richard alone.


Richard. I have been studying how I may compare

This prison where I live unto the world;

And for because the world is populous,

And here it is not a creature but myself,

I cannot do it. Yet I’ll hammer it out:

My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,

My soul soul the father, and these two begat

A generation of still-breeding thoughts;

And these same thoughts people this little world,

In humors like the people of this world,

For no thought is contented. The better sort,

As thoughts of things divine are intermixed

With scruples, and do set the world itself

Against the word, as thus: “Come, little ones”; Continue reading

P / P Master Class Four: Open Up

Photo credit: Heart Chakra by Art by Adelaide

Editor’s Note: It took me four tries to write this P / P Master Class. This published piece is on the heels of writing a free writing session entitled, “Take Time (open up.).”

“Take Time (open up.),” was written after hearing the song, March 14. A song I didn’t notice at the end of the album, Scorpion. I thought the record ended with “Final Fantasy,” but I found it after digging into the album for some time. This is how you become a Master. You dig in and listen because anything that is well crafted will a) teach you how to craft your own work b) teach you to never underestimate art. I like the album “Father of Asahd” as well. 

When you dig into art and listen for days, weeks and months, your thinking becomes clearer, thoughts come to your mind, you’re reminded of memories and finally, you’re convinced because it’s ok to open up because someone was brave enough to do it before you ever had the notion to do so. You begin to attain the ability to tell the unadulterated truth of your vulnerability, your innocence and your heart.

This Master Class piece is about guts. You don’t always have to spill them but you’ve got to lay them on the table and bring them with you everywhere you go.

P / P Master Class Four: Open Up

Your most painful moments will eventually become your most fruitful writing processes.

Writing, creative work and working as an author is not just about how you craft sentences. It is about being able to be as transparent as possible. Being a writer is a solitary job. Yes, there are teams who write songs and textbooks, but for the most part, you’re on your own. You’re job is to do something alone. It is what it is. So, when you’re trying to write while going through a deeply painful or traumatic time in your life, you’re going to feel extremely lonely. Most writers like to be alone. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Being lonely and hurt can inspire your most vulnerable and valuable pieces of writing.

You’ve got to choose what you fill your mind with.

If you fill your mind with Bugs Bunny cartoons, you’re going to think like Bugs. I know that sounds silly, but some people love cartoons and that’s ok. I have to reiterate this simple concept because you cannot truly open up unless you live in a state of mind where you are modeling yourself after a lot of information, which in this case, would be artists who are honest, forthright and well-articulated. If you don’t, you’re going to eventually get clogged or what many would say, “blocked.” Continue reading

P / P Essay: Take Time (open up.)


Photo credit: Mayan Calendar from Living Maya Time.

I can’t contain is any longer. I help raise a child for nearly two years and lost him when I walked out after being violated for the last time. His family may deny it, but I loved him. I may never see him again after not enough time to heal, I have to let him go.  

I am childless. I had a corrective surgery to grow my chances of having one but now I am fatherless, waiting, selective, private, in pain. My husband is not barren, we are in an open relationship, growing apart day by day living in different cities. I like the space. I like to travel. Soon, I will be husbandless, fatherless. My father is going to be in hospice soon. I have to see him dying of cancer this weekend. 

I can’t hold it in anymore. I have no one to send this to. I could publish, but it’s not polished. I’m just writing, letting it go. The men in my life are all falling away. My uncle, my mother’s baby brother died two days ago. I’ve got more haters and complaints than I can count while I go through grief. Harassed, yelled at laughed at, hit on, loved and hated. I’m not dying. No phone calls, please. I’ve got to quit smoking.  

I said I’d quit falling for musicians, but life is what it is. The pain I feel gives me space and time, time and space – at least someone understands. 

I’ve lost a child. 

I’m losing my father. 

My uncle has passed away. 

I’m being verbally abused by strangers on the daily, tracked, stalked, thwarted to the best of their abilities. Complaints, the complaints. No empathy, no sympathy. No human connection. People not wanting to hear me or understand – I’m being abused. I’ve been violated. Violence is all around me.   Continue reading

P / P Essay: The Dark Side of the Moon (exploring danger)

Album Art: The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

Editor’s Note: I was thinking last night and this morning about what I wanted to share with the world. My personal fear is that my writing is getting more fearless, which can be somewhat uncomfortable. My work has evolved. My essays may not be as subtle or brief as they used to be. I am delving into depths where I have not gone before because this form of depth was previously not within me.  Publik / Private is here to give voice to corners of consciousness that others struggle to express.

Even so, as the founder, I struggle to allow P / P’s breadth of writing and literature to morph and grow, but I believe it is inevitable that the writing is going to get braver, the reading lists will touch on topics that we hope heal and touch those who need and desire resources and book about vulnerable facets of human life. This has always been the goal – to hold space for those who balance, are honest and unabashedly think out of the box.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (exploring danger)

Location is interesting. When I begin to feel stagnant, immobile and constrained, I have to become more introspective and look at my surroundings, my routine, and allow myself to be guided by destiny. It took awhile for me to surrender to change. The Wheel of Life is very different than running rapidly in a hamster wheel of limitation.

I asked myself last night and this morning what did I need to share? What is it that the world needs? I replied to myself “The world needs love,” but I felt like there is enough love. That’s not what is lacking. Is it vulnerability? What could I contribute?

Recently, I buried myself. After a season of isolation, conflict and self doubt, I had been whittled down into submission. I found myself asking for permission to speak, I found myself utterly afraid of everything. And everyone who know me knows that isn’t me.  So, the things that I’ve been saying and doing have been contradictory. I know it, I see it, but I can’t help it because I have been abused. It’s well documented that I am a survivor. This has been a part of my identity for a long time, so it was never a question of if I was going to die, but how was I going to turn my reality around to live?




danger noun

dan·​ger | \ ˈdān-jər  \

Definition of danger

*merriam webster online



a archaic : JURISDICTION

You stand within his danger, do you not?

— Shakespeare

b obsolete : REACH, RANGE

… out of the shot and danger of desire.

— Shakespeare


obsolete : HARM, DAMAGE

… a sting in him that at his will he may do danger with.

— Shakespeare


: exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss

a place where children could play without danger

was assured her job was not in danger


: a case or cause of danger

the dangers of mining


I had a couple of thoughts come to my mind in regards to the word danger: but the question, I need to explore is:

Are some people more vulnerable to danger than others?

I know that because I am small in stature and a female-identified being, it puts me in vulnerable positions that others may never experience.

People talk about “penis envy,” but being in a woman’s body is a beautiful thing – and many times I would think, particularly in terms of the intersection of race and sex, “If others could only be in a Black woman’s body, live as a Black woman, they would see how beautiful it is. There wouldn’t be racism, there wouldn’t sexism because our cells, the waves of our hormonal vibrations, the general makeup of our biological woven strands of DNA that make us what we are feels so good.” Continue reading

P / P Essay: Another Look at Grief pt. 1 (For Brittany)

Image from Harvard Business Review, “Making Your Workplace Safe for Grief

Editor’s Note: I found out I lost a close friend of mine yesterday. Her name was Brittany. She was gregarious homeless floater, an African American trans woman who, over the years I’ve seen smile, hug, love and survive through horrible experiences. There was a time some men broke her leg because she was a “faggot.” I would give her money when I could, I always told her she was beautiful and she me. She was beautiful. Not just on the outside, but what really drew us all to her was her heart.

I could not attend her vigil for my own personal reasons, but I am grieving her. And because I couldn’t be there, the least I can do is dedicate this essay to her.


A few months ago, we released a reading list entitled, P / P Reading List: 10 Books To Help Those Who Are Healing Through Grief, but yesterday, I was faced with another more intimate look at death and loss. I honestly, don’t remember what made me put together the reading list. I believe I have the ability to feel what others feel, grieve when others grieve, become affected when people are close…or even far away. If I can be deeply honest – I’ve never written this publicly, but there are times when I feel so much empathy and love in my heart, I am overwhelmed.

Through study and writing I’ve learned about experiences of people all over the world: people who don’t have clean water, experience FGM, girls who are married off at 11 years old and people who have lost a parent or close friend.

I had to learn to be cautious about complaining about the plights of being an African American woman. It is not that I don’t experience systemic problems that derive from the roots of slavery and racism in this country – by the way, Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter is a book that opens one’s eyes to Black women’s history from the moment African women stepped onto American soil to the 1980s. It teaches about the prolific Black women who helped make our culture what it is today:

It wasn’t only after reading that book and writing for Ms. Magazine that taught me about the different ways women navigate life around the world, but it simply helped me learn how blessed all of us are in America. Black women can get an education, we can speak what’s on our minds, we can share our stories, we can get published, drive cars and have access to massive amenities that most the people around the world could not fathom receiving. So, there is a blessing in grief when it comes to where I stand in life – but none of us, not one human being is able to escape death and loss. Continue reading

P / P Essay: The Blessing of a Sense of Humor

Coates with his son, Samori, in the summer of 2001. Photograph: Ta-Nehisi Coates via The Guardian


It’s been a tough few months and there’s nothing funny about being a woman of color who struggles with the external pressures and intimidation of life.

Nonetheless, I had my first funny dream in a long time this morning.

The last time I saw my best friend, she told me, “You used to be so funny, light-hearted and goofy,” (I don’t take being called “goofy” as an insult. I like to make my friends laugh.) She continued, “you used to have a light in your eyes and it’s not there anymore.”  At that moment, I heard her and I knew what she meant, but I figured back then, life has good days and bad ones – not to belittle anyone who has experienced any sort of loss or tragedy.

Trauma will do that but this morning, I had a sweet, funny dream. I don’t remember what the dream was about but I woke up remembering who I was, who I am, and the pain others have caused me, the intrusion, the insults seemed to roll off my back at 5 in the morning while I had to deal with people outside my window, taunting and enjoying the peril of my discomfort…before my first cup of coffee. Because of that dream, my heart was light as I changed out my filter, filled my coffee maker with espresso, and then fixed the curtain that keeps falling down in my office. My day to day felt a little nicer, and it came from me – not a compliment, not a phone call or a cool opportunity.

Get over yourself, Jordannah.

All I have is myself. If I get over that, me, what is the point of life? What would I do? The outside world, the world around me, Between the World and Me (shout out to Mr. Ta-Nehisi, another Baltimore born author who grew up understanding what I understand, and probably lives as an adult author knowing much more).

My very simple point is that my subconscious, without being direct, without giving me some deep message and booming male voice relaying some heavy prophesy or decree telling me about my future, simply made me laugh.

And I needed that. Continue reading