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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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?