All Articles Tagged "Dee Rees"
CALLING: Screenwriter and director
WHY WE’RE SALUTING HER:
Screenwriter and director Dee Rees is the mastermind behind several short films, as well as the critically acclaimed feature film Pariah, which was the first major movie to showcase homosexual black women in a non-stereotypical way on the big screen.
Rees, who was born in Nashville, TN, didn’t begin her career in the entertainment industry. In fact, after she received an MBA in Business Administration from Florida A&M University, she moved to Cincinnati to work for Proctor & Gamble where she marketed panty liners. When she was was laid off from that job, she moved to New York City to work for marketing firm Schering Plough, and during one of the commercial shoots for Dr. Scholls, Rees realized she was interested in film and enrolled in New York University’s graduate film program.
While at NYU, Rees met Spike Lee, who became her personal mentor, and she also worked as a script supervisor intern for two of his films, Inside Man and When the Levees Broke. Rees began working on the Pariah script while she was working on Inside Man in 2005 and shortened the full-length script into a short for her graduate thesis. In 2007, the short played at 40 festivals worldwide, winning 25 shorts awards including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
In 2008, Spike Lee agreed to formalize his role with Pariah, serving as executive producer, but Rees had trouble pitching the film because investors believed it was too small and too specific. As Rees translated the rejection, “It was just code for too black and too gay.” So, realizing that she had to invest in her film in order for others to do so, Rees sold her own apartment and eventually found some investors. Pariah, which Rees said, “kind of transposed my own experience of coming out onto a 17-year-old girl,” was shot in 18 days and all interiors were shot at a single Brooklyn brownstone. At Sundance, it was acquired by Focus Features, and when the flick made it’s big screen debut in 2011, there was much talk about Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. Although such honors were never realized, Pariah was widely regarded with several award nominations and wins from the African-American Film Critics Association, Black Reel Awards, and the Black Film Critics Circle.
For having the courage to tell her own story and shine light on the African American lesbian community, we salute Dee Rees.
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I went to go see Pariah over the weekend and actually, I really enjoyed it.
The film, which was written and directed by Dee Rees (protégé of Spike Lee’s protégé’), is a coming of age story of Alike, a 17-year-old Black girl from Harlem coming to terms with her own sexual identity as a lesbian and must waver the waters between her conservative mother, played by Kim Wayans, and her contradictory father, played by Charles Parnell. The film has been getting lots of praise for highlighting the invisible voice of black female queers in the community; however, the intense and strained relationship between mother and daughter has such a universal theme, which makes it relatable to just about anyone, who once struggled in their youth.
Yet the awesomeness of Pariah has been pretty much been overshadowed by the hype over Red Tails. Despite the film, which centers on the plight and fight of the Tuskegee airmen, being well in the works for well over two decades, the hype around it didn’t start until recently, when folks began to spread the fear of God that if the film is not a box office success than all hope for the future of black films is doomed.
It all started when George Lucas, the Star Wars guy and creator and financier of Red Tails, appeared on The Daily Show to promote the film and started talking about racism in Hollywood. In a follow up interview, Lucas hinted that if Red Tails was a failure, it could have negative repercussions for black filmmakers: “I realize that by accident I’ve now put the black film community at risk [with Red Tails, whose $58 million budget far exceeds typical all-black productions],” he said. “I’m saying, if this doesn’t work, there’s a good chance you’ll stay where you are for quite a while. It’ll be harder for you guys to break out of that [lower-budget] mold. But if I can break through with this movie, then hopefully there will be someone else out there saying let’s make a prequel and sequel, and soon you have more Tyler Perrys out there.”
Oh great, more Tyler Perrys.
Interesting enough, Red Tails was created by the same guy who brought us Jar Jar Binks, the computer-animated character who appeared in the Star Wars prequels and which generated much controversy over its racially charged, Rastafarian mimicry. So why there is such a heavy emphasis on supporting Lucas’ Red Tails while genuine black films like Pariah are left to their own devices?
First off, I take issue with what is essentially has been a fear and race-based marketing campaign by Lucas to persuade moviegoers, particularly Black moviegoers, to see this film. We are told that if it would be the end of Black filmmaking as we know it. Never mind, if the film is interesting or compelling or even entertaining. We have a racial duty to unite to see this film or else we make Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weep?
And never mind that Hollywood has been operating with the same M.O. for decades and decades. The industry will not likely change even if the film magically breaks box office records, which it will probably not. Why? Well stories told from the black perceptive have always had trouble finding dedicated audiences outside of the community. Point blank, the mainstream is less inclined to see films featuring black actors. And if we are to go on the long rationalized reason that Hollywood is a business, than we can be certain that Red Tails, even if it is moderately successful, will not inspire the business to take a chance on us.
But of course, Black filmmakers have known this little secret, which Lucas appeared to just discover, for years. This might explain why Black filmmakers haven’t been waiting around for Hollywood to give the proverbial green light to make and finance their own films. They may not get the big audiences and big box office numbers as their mainstream counterparts but the lack of financial support from inside tinsel town isn’t stopping brothers and sisters from picking up cameras.
However, all may not be lost in the world of Black filmmaking if Red Tails tanks. As reported, Rees is currently working on a project for HBO that will feature actress Viola Davis and a thriller flick called “Bolo.” And on Sunday night, Pariah received a special shout-out at the Golden Globes by legendary film actress Meryl Streep. Likewise the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, also known as AFFRM, has been steadily pushing for the theatrical release of quality independent African-American films through simultaneous limited engagements in select cities including I Will Follow and Kinyarwanda. In short, the future of Black film – with or without the success of Red Tails – will survive.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort of Lucas to bring more Black films, or at the very least a black film funded by a white man, to the big screen, but if this flops, I think it is less likely that we can count on him bringing a sequel to the screen. And that is all. So folks can stop with the “must read” emails and Facebook invites for bus trips to the movie theater. There is no more of a moral obligation to see this flick as there would be for any other mainstream film, which lets us carry the lead.
Long gone are the days that we should have to feel a need to prove anything to Hollywood. If anything, it is the reverse. And if Hollywood is as racist as we all know it is why should we feel the need to let the decision of what images gets green-lighted continue to be placed in the hands of those, who don’t see us as human beings? I mean, the last time Hollywood took interest in the black market we got a bunch of one-dimensional Blaxiploitation and gangster flicks in both the 70s and in the 90s.
Instead let’s throw our support – and dollars – behind filmmakers, who continue to make conscious efforts to not only make films despite not having the blessings of mainstream Hollywood but make good films period.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.
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By now you’ve probably heard some of the hype behind the independent short turned feature film “Pariah.”(You might have even heard about it here.) Well, I, along with another Madame Noire editor, had a chance to see an advanced screening of this movie back in September. Even though we saw the film months ago, it’s a story that sticks with you. Shortly after the screening we had the opportunity to tape into one of the masterminds behind the film, director Dee Rees.
After seeing a group of what Rees describes as “out and proud” teenagers in Brooklyn, she started thinking about her own story and how she lacked confidence and self awareness when she first came out as a lesbian. This thought eventually turned into the subject for Rees’ senior thesis for NYU’s film school.
“Pariah” is a coming of age story for a black, lesbian teenager growing up in Brooklyn, New York. The lead character Alike, played by actress Adepero Oduye, deals with expressing her sexual identity, fighting to maintain a relationship with her mother Audrey, played by Kim Wayans, and finding herself as a woman.
Rees who has stated that the movie is largely autobiographical spoke with Madame Noire about what inspired the film, her own story and what she wants audiences to learn.
“Pariah” is already being considered a contender for an Oscar just a few days following its limited theater release, and the film was a large hit at the Sundance Festival earlier this year.
The largely autobiographical production from Dee Rees is, as the New York Times says, a “film made by a black lesbian about being a black lesbian.” It explores issues of identity, alienation, and sexuality among young black girls, while Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell also depict the struggle with denial and acceptance many parents go through–particularly African Americans–as they watch their child come into their sexuality.
What began as just a feature script in 2005 was expanded into a feature project with the support of several independent film studios and shot over 19 days in Brooklyn. Check out the trailer for the film and tell us what you think.
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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In 2008, filmmaker Dennis Dortch was living the life that many independent film directors and writers aspired to. After being rejected by Sundance the previous year, his film “A Good Day to be Black and Hot” was gaining well-deserved praise and attention.
“It was probably the greatest experience in my filmmaking career. It’s the time that every filmmaker wants. To be recognized in the street, have your film be talked about,” said Dortch. “People come pat you on the back. That happened for like two weeks. They take care of you very well and make you the star when usually the stars are the people in the film.”
Nicknamed “Blackdance,” it’s apparent that since 2008, there has been an increase in the number of African-American filmmakers showcasing their work at the most esteemed film festival in the country. In 2010, there were just over a dozen, still a significantly low number compared to the 113 films that were accepted. One of the most prevalent black films that did make it to theaters was Tanya Hamilton’s “Night Catches Us,” a romantic drama based on the 1970s Black Power movement.
Though beyond the Sundance Film Festival, there lies a misty void in African- American culture that many in the film industry are working hard to solidify. Organizations like the Urbanworld Film Festival, the American Black Film Festival and distributor Codeblack Entertainment (Qasim Basir’s Mooz-lum and Laugh at my Pain) significantly contribute to the cause every year. However, it’s using the foundation that these organizations have built, breaking out of a subculture and making an impact on the general indie film market that will garner lasting effects.
While countless theatrical projects find themselves birthed at film festivals and carried by unwavering support to neighborhood theaters, black independent films are still lagging behind. From their presence in the general independent film market to their journey onto the big screen, an inquiry constantly hovers: what’s the hold up with black indie films?