How ‘Dear White People’s Final Season Began a New Chapter for Writer Jaclyn Moore
Senior year. A time of discovery and transition for so many. Fittingly, Dear White People is setting its fourth and final season during that pivotal period at Winchester University, not just because it positions the students of the Netflix dramedy at the edge of an uncertain future, but also because it marks a life-altering change for one of the show’s writers and executive producers, Jaclyn Moore.
During production of the show’s last batch of episodes—a full-blown musical season that deftly mixes ’90s R&B, social commentary, soapy twists and sly looks into the characters’ futures as they prepare to perform in a huge Varsity Show—Moore, an open, funny and ferociously smart writer who has worked on Difficult People and Love Life, transitioned. At the same time, she was helping rework portions of People‘s final season due to COVID delays and protocols while also firming up a deal to executive produce Peacock’s planned update of Queer As Folk. Sort of makes one feel like a bit of a slacker for just making sourdough bread during the pandemic, huh?
Here, the happier-than-ever Moore shares her experience with finding the courage to transition during the craziest time in history, the beauty of her Dear White People cast and what folks can expect from the new Queer.
Wow, so you have had a very big year!
Jaclyn Moore: Yeah, there’s been some changes. [Laughs]
When did you decide that this was the time to transition?
I just took the whole idea of “You don’t have to exit the pandemic the same person you went into it” very literally. [Laughs] I mean, I’ve known for a very long time and you know, at some point you’re just like, “Why am I not doing this now?” My only regret is that I waited as long as I did.
I’m sure it’s incredibly scary and you have no idea how people are going to react, but you’ve got to feel so happy.
Oh, I’m so much happier. It’s truly wild how much happier I am now. It’s sort of like those viral videos of colorblind people putting on the glasses and are like, “Oh, this is what blue looks like!” Only in this case, it’s like “Oh this is what other people mean when they talk about happiness! I had no idea!”
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That’s amazing. How how has everybody at Dear White People when you came back for the fourth season? Because that’s a big change.
Yeah. Well, I actually transitioned in the middle of our production. I transitioned over to the holiday hiatus and the people there were really wonderful. You know, I’ve been there for so long, really from the beginning, and I was really hesitant. The thing about being a closeted trans person is that for so long, you make up any excuse to put it off. Like “Just a a few more months” or “Well, there’ll be a better time later.” And for a while, Dear White People was my excuse. I didn’t want to make this last season about me, I’m the only white writer on the show and I just felt like I would be making a spectacle of myself or something…which of course isn’t true, because these people are like family to me at this point. And then with COVID, we kept getting delayed so I kept thinking that once we’re done and “done” kept getting pushed back. [Laughs]
So I finally just decided to do it and I’m so glad that I did because everybody was so lovely. You know, I came back from hiatus and you know, my chair had a new name on it and everybody kind of took their moments to pull me aside and be supportive and wonderful. It was really great and I’m so glad that I did not deny myself that in a very supportive environment
And did you get to raid the costume department? Because building a whole new wardrobe is expensive!
[Laughs] I did not, unfortunately. Although I did get taught makeup in the makeup department. That was very helpful. One of our makeup artists, Levi Vieira—BeautyByLevi on Instagram—showed me how to do my makeup, which is a great gift and felt like I got to skip an awkward three-month period that I would have had learning this stuff, otherwise.
Right, because you still had a show to do! And let’s talk about this: I love that you are doing a musical season and open with one of the greatest, most-underrated Prince songs.
Oh my goodness. Thank you so much. I’m so glad. When [creator] Justin Simien and I were initially talking about doing the fourth season as a musical, there was definitely a moment of like, “Is this crazy in a good way or in a terrible way?” But the more we did it, the more it felt like it was crazy in great way. We’re both such musical-theater queers, so it was it was a real delight. Although making a musical during COVID is not something I would wish upon my worst enemies. [Laughs]
Oh it must have been intense. But there are so many great numbers where you do have a lot of people involved. It looks amazing.
The protocols had to be very strict to make sure we could do that. And it was an intense process. We had written the entire season in a pre-COVID world and our writers’ room ran until late-April of 2020. So it was the odd situation where we had the full scripts done and then it was like, “What is this Corona virus thing that people are talking about? Is it just going to be a thing?” Turns out, no. So we pushed the start of production I think six or seven months and [we] rewrote large chunks of the future stuff to make it more produceable. Our show does take place in our world, like we’ve established that Donald Trump exists. We never say his name, but we definitely obliquely referenced him and the alt-right and all these things.
And so then it was like, well, timeline-wise, it’s weird. Like, does COVID exist at Winchester? Is that a thing? Because then their senior year would have all been remote, so that doesn’t feel emotionally satisfying. It really did become this kind of puzzle of “How do we finish the show in a cathartic, emotional way?”And we had all this stuff in place, you know? It was a musical, it was about the Varsity Show and also, all these things that were in the conversation with what was happening in the world. Things like white-led institutions co-opting this “summer of reckoning.” We had all these things that were very timely in the show, but then there was this X-factor of COVID. So our answer was to address future pandemics, which unfortunately, is based on the Delta variant. We did not realize when we were writing it that we could just continuously be falling back into versions of lockdowns.
I appreciate the framework you establish that’s giving us both their final year and what they become in the future without just tagging on a “10 Years Later” at the end of it all.
And that was always part of it. Originally the idea was we were going to see Sam and Lionel sort of go on a cross-country trip…basically the future stuff was going to feel more like it feels in the first episode of the season, the bookstore episode. We were going to see them at Coco’s office, we were going to see them in the Fried Chicanery Media’s headquarters in LA and all these things.
Thankfully, like we had language of Zoom that we have all become so familiar with that we could be like, “Ok, there’s a way to make this both COVID-friendly to shoot and more production friendly.” Because that was the other thing, right? We’re making a musical, that’s already a production challenge, and now you’re doing it with the added pressures of COVID days and trying to keep shorter hours. So yeah, it was really about trying to find a way to square the circle a bit. And I’m really happy how it turned out.
Also, your cast is so good at what you ask of them.
Yeah. They’re all really talented. We knew they were amazing and had some sense that a few of them had musical talent. We had had Ashley [Blaine Featherson, Joelle] sing in previous seasons but I don’t think we knew quite how musically talented they all were. We knew like John Patrick Amedori, who plays Gabe, was definitely musically talented…we knew he played guitar and could sing. When we were writing it, we had sort of these like weird little like audition processes. I guess “audition” isn’t the right word because everybody had the job already. [Laughs] It was more of, “Hey, show us what you can do.” Like, bring us a song, bring us something. And it was the most fun few days of like, “OK, smokey-voiced Logan Browning.” We had no idea!
And whose idea was it to get Wendie Malick in there as the Varsity Show director?
Oh my God. I mean, we all love Wendie Malick. She is a queen of all Queens. I adore her and she was such a delight to work with too. You know how sometimes with the icons, you’re like, “Oh my God, they’re the best!” And then you’re like, “You know what? Lock them in their trailer”? Nope, she was so game and so lovely, a true joy.
And so you create this season in a pandemic and then you move right into the new Queer As Folk…which was just stalled by a hurricane down in New Orleans?
Oh God, I know! I’m currently in LA because I was evacuated. I will hopefully be back soon-ish in New Orleans. We don’t start production until probably the end of October, early November. We’re still figuring out the fallout of the hurricane. But I had moved there maybe three months ago because I wanted to write scripts there. I had never lived there. I’d visited before. I knew what it was to be queer and trans in Los Angeles and I knew what it was like in New York, but I didn’t know what it was like to be queer and trans there and it’s just different. I’m so glad that I moved there but the queer and trans experience there is very different than it is in New York and L.A.
I would say it is both more welcoming and more hostile at the same time. It’s more hostile because it is very unapologetically the South. Yet as a result of being more hostile, the queer communities that are there are very welcoming and very sort of defiant and punk rock and middle-fingers-to-people and that’s such a great energy. New Orleans is also the first place I’ve ever been only Jacqueline, never as Jack. And so I had no memories there of any other version of myself. That was a really special, I’m really excited about it. [Showrunner] Steven Dunn is a genius and our cast—I think everybody’s been announced at this point—we have just have this incredible cast.
How far along are you with the show?
We’re just about done with all the scripts. I think they’re really good.
And this isn’t a reboot or a remake, right? We’re getting all brand new characters, totally different experiences, right?
Yes, it is. I would say that it’s a spiritual successor. The thing we always say is, if you squint, you’ll see some similar character dynamics at times. And we are definitely playing with some similar archetypes at times. And while it is not directly connected to the previous versions of the show, it’s definitely, I would say, spiritually closer to the British version than the American version.
I was obsessed with the British version.
Me too! I would say it’s criminally under-seen here and it was sort of our North Star in a lot of ways. Aesthetically it’s its own thing—it has that kind of punk defiance of the city. And I think the characters, you know, I’m really glad that there’s more representation out there but representation is not inherently enough and I’m personally sick of trans stories that are specifically all about how we are saints upon whom tragedy is inflicted or we are villainous serial killers. There’s very little in-between. Our goal was to embrace messy queers in all of it. Nobody’s a hero, nobody’s a villain, we’re all just messy people trying our best.
To be honest, obviously there are a million stories to being trans, right? Like it’s not one thing. And yes, I’m certainly pouring a lot of my trans experience into one particular character on the show, but just like my experience and Stephen’s experience, we have this amazing writers room. Roxane Gay, Ryan O’Connell (Special), Punkie Johnson from SNL…just like, a murderer’s row sort of writers’ room, it’s so good and and we’re all just kind of pouring our experiences into the stories. And I think a big part of it is wanting those experiences to inform rather than, you know, be After-School Special-ized.
Well, I cannot wait. I’m so excited and I’m so glad that you were a fan of the original, because that was just it!
Absolutely. I mean, Aidan Gillen on the original? If people knew that Littlefinger was out there, you know, blowing up cars and driving Jeeps into the front windows of car dealerships. [Laughs]
Dear White People Vol. 4, Now Streaming, Netflix