All Articles Tagged "pariah"
Writer and director Dee Rees made her feature film debut, Pariah, in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival. Semi-autobiographical in nature, Pariah is a coming-of-age film that chronicles the story of Alike, a 17-year-old lesbian discovering how to be. It features a breakout performance by actress Adepero Oduye, who is supported by a rich cast, including Aasha Davis, Pernell Walker, Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans. After its Sundance debut, the film, which was executive produced by Spike Lee, was acquired by Focus Features. Authentic, beautiful, stirring. We can’t say enough great things about Pariah. Read on to learn some secrets behind the making of the film.
*Name has been changed to ensure privacy
A few weeks ago I came across the movie Pariah. It was one of those vague, but poignant IFC network films that I’m always waking up on the end of in the middle of the night. Before the credits begin to roll there’s a dark-skinned girl staring out of a bus window with a vacant look of relief which had me like, “Wonder what the hell that was about?” So I did a search and set for it to record the next day. The movie begins in a seedy strip club. Our main character stands a bit behind the crowd shy, but in awe of this mocha-colored beauty doing some kind of butterfly thigh move on the pole. And soon it hits me that this person in a fitted cap looking confused, amazed and about a “Drake” on a comfort level of saint to sinner in the strip club is wait…a girl. Pariah is the story of a young African-American woman dealing with discovering her own blossoming sexuality and self-expression while confronting the expectations of her traditional church-going parents who have skeletons of their own. Even more so, it’s a story of a butch African-American lesbian teenage girl.
Over the past twenty-years and so, America has hesitantly swallowed the shock value of gay America and in the past decade or so even slowly infused it into our popular culture in a social understanding that LGBTQ is American culture too whether we like it or not. But as familiar as some of us have become with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and LOGO TV, we’ve forgotten that lesbians are about that life too. And not the lesbians that Lil’ Wayne glorifies and America likes to see. I’m talking about the lesbians that we don’t completely understand, so we think if we don’t discuss them, they’ll go away: the butch lesbians.
Because I honestly must say, I don’t get it. When I watched Pariah I had the same question I’m sure everyone else does when they see a beautiful woman holding hands with someone at first glance you think is a guy, until something that would otherwise go unnoticed gives it away only because you ARE staring so hard, “Why is she with her when she could just get a real man?”
“That’s not a question that’s easy to answer,” I was told Friday evening. See because the fact that I didn’t “get it,”bothered me. So instead of making assumptions I wanted to talk to someone who could give me a glimpse into what life is like for the “lesbians straight people don’t understand.” I decided to call up Jazz*, a friend I hadn’t talked to since high school. In fact she was someone I had liked a lot, my best friend since grade school. So of course I felt like a complete jerk that my first phone call to her in over ten years was to interrogate her about her sexual status. It was nothing personal, just one of those situations where life stuff makes you lose touch. Luckily the whole conversation wasn’t just about who she was sleeping with, and she was still the great friend I had from all of those years ago.
For as long as I knew, Jazz and I never had much in common. In fact I’m pretty sure our friendship blossomed from always being grouped together for some kind of seating arrangement or project in grade school because our names were close together in the alphabet. We always enjoyed each other’s company and even when I’d come over she’d be playing basketball in the back of the house and I’d be upstairs playing Barbies with her younger sisters. But it was further proof that friendship is more than just all of the activities you have in common; it’s about inside jokes, common enemies and the fact that someone who is not obligated to love you, does for whatever reason that may be.
When I vaguely learned that Jazz was dating women through a random Facebook update, I can’t say I was super surprised, but apparently it wasn’t anything she ever really entertained when we were younger. Here I was marching around with my LGBTQ ally flag singing, Baby I was Born This Way when Jazz quickly corrected, she really doesn’t think she was, “Some people say they’re born gay and I don’t know if I agree with that. I’m not even going to say I wasn’t ever attracted to men. Even you know when me and you were younger we talked about boys we thought were cute.” It made me think of the notes we’d pass in eight grade bickering over who Batman from Immature (or was it IMX by then) belonged to. It wasn’t a front or her fighting any feelings she was ashamed of. She was just blindly navigating her sexuality like the rest of us adolescents. It just further confirmed to me how sexuality isn’t as black and white as we’d like it to be, whether you’re gay or straight. We may not be all pushing any boundaries on gender representation and who were attracted to, but sexuality and emotions are confusing for everyone.
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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In MN’s Year In Review, we’re counting down our top stories as well as the biggest moments in television, music, movies, and news.
Though you might think slideshows make this site (yes, we sense the shade), it’s the unique essays penned by our team of writers that really make the Madame Noire voice and spark the discourse we enjoy having with you — our lovely readers. Here’s a list of the 10 most-read essays we’ve published this year. Which one’s your favorite?
1. I’ll be honest, I feel like Lala is my celebrity BFF. Last season I only watched her show because it filled a gap somewhere in between my Monday night TV lineup, but after a few episodes I realized she wasn’t boring, she was the type of down to earth, unwaveringly loyal friend, mother, and wife of a pro athlete that I think I would really like in real life. Her show and her personality definitely grew on me. With the premiere of season 2 last night, I was pretty excited to see a group of girls hanging out together, sharing laughs, and catching up—especially after the foolishness that came on before her show—but unfortunately that’s not exactly what I got…Read more.
OK, so maybe we all haven’t been asking this, but as a lover of T.I. I can admit I have been a hater of Tiny. And as my Twitter timeline often shows on Monday nights, and obviously author Shahida Muhammad’s as well, lots of women find themselves asking, out of all the women T.I. could have, why did he choose Tiny?…Read more.
So I caught the latest addition to the Isht that So & So Says meme called Isht that Natural Hair Girls Says and I got a good chuckle out of it because it just reminded me of how sometimes the whole fascination over natural hair gets to be ridiculous…Read more.
A few months ago, I went on a date with a gentleman who really had me scratching my head. When I initially met him, I can recall thinking that he was perhaps more sensitive (aka, feminine) than most of the guys I engage. However, I decided to be nice and at least get to know him a little more before drawing any conclusions. I left my number with him and within a few days he’d arranged to take me to dinner at a restaurant I had been eager to try. While I had resolved to keep an open mind, in my head was the reality that I would need to see some unbridled manliness (whatever that is) during this date in order to be comfortable with seeing him for a second one….Read more.
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…Read more.
If you made the very intelligent decision to go see the film Pariah this past year (or in this early new year), then I’m sure you’ve seen Adepero Oduye’s face before. She actually plays the main character, Alike, who struggles with her identity as a lesbian. While her character in the film prefers fitted caps and baggy jeans, in real life, Adepero clearly likes to show out on the red carpet (make that a purple, and a blue and white carpet…). Check out her looks from this past weekend.
On Saturday, Oduye hit up the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif. in this eclectic pantsuit in a gorgeous African print. The jacket had a very unique cut since it skipped buttons for a flowing, open bottom, and the pants seemed to be of the skinny leg, cigarette pant persuasion. She topped the vibrant blue, gold and white printed ensemble off with a loose yellow top and bronze colored, strappy, open-toe heels. Her natural hair was braided at the crown, and she kept both her makeup and jewelry to a minimum.
Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (no, not Sherri Shepherd or Yvette Nicole Brown) got great news this morning when it was announced they both received Academy Award nominations for their work in The Help.
For Davis, who garnered her nomination for playing Aibileen Clark, the soft-spoken maid and heroine of the film, this is her second Oscar nod. She picked one up in 2008 for her role as the pathetic mother, Mrs. Miller in Doubt. Coincidentally, for this year’s Academy Awards, she’ll be battling for the little statuette against her Doubt co-star, Meryl Streep. Oh yeah, and some other folks.
For Spencer, who has racked up any and everything this awards season, including her recent Golden Globe win for playing the hilarious Minny Jackson in the film, this is her first Oscar nomination, but probably not her last. She seems like a frontrunner for the award and we’ll definitely be rooting for both Spencer and Davis on the big night–Feb.26.
These two seem to be the only black folks who picked up nominations this year, and after last year’s drought, two is better than none at all, right? But I’m just wondering, where is Pariah at nominations wise? I guess after not being able to grab a Golden Globe nomination, there was no way the awesome independent film could slip in the back door for Oscar noms–but still. Kim Wayans should have picked up some kind of something for her amazing work, and I know I’m not the only one who was moved by the movie. But I guess, to each their own. You know how I like to rant (*smile*).
But anyway, congrats ladies!
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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?