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Exclusive interview with Pariah director

We review the new film about a black lesbian from Brooklyn and speak exclusively to director Dee Rees

Campbell X

Wed, 26 Oct 2011 16:33:04 GMT | Updated 5 years today

Alike is a 17 year old A-grade high school student, gifted poet and daddy's girl. She's also struggling to find out who she is as a teenage lesbian newbie. Should she hang out with her mentor at the women's club where pole-dancers are thrown cash to entice them to strip or with the church-attending friend approved by her mother?

Alike comes from a two-parent family in Brooklyn and has a younger sibling Sharonda. This outwardly perfect family however is slowly disintegrating by not dealing with underlying tensions. Her cop father works all hours, while her mother tries to be the good wife and mother forcing Alike to conform to gender norms. As Alike gains confidence in her lesbianism this causes an explosive outcome leading her to make life-changing decisions.

Pariah is the feature-length version of the award-winning 2007 short film Pariah by Dee Rees and this, her first feature film, was executive produced by Spike Lee.  Rees met Lee when she interned on his film Inside Man and he provided valuable feedback on her script and editing process. The film went on to win a standing ovation when it was premiered at Sundance in 2010.

Pariah is an achievement of imagination and self-belief over mainstream cinema's commercial concerns. Very few studios - if any - would fund a feature by a first time director, a black lesbian making a film about a black lesbian with leads who are not "names". So Pariah was self-financed and funded using private investors and crowd funding on well-known crowd funding website, Kickstarter.

The film does not betray its shoe-string budget and is a stunning treatise on the frustrations, terror and confusion of coming out as a teenager in the jungle that is high school.  The film is subtle in showing how patriarchy and religion keep women in their place, and how mothers uphold the repression of their own daughters by keeping their gender in check while the men pretty much do as they please.  Alike wrestles with the few choices apparently available to her. She feels that on the commercial black club scene she would have more attention if she were a stud, like her buddy Laura and yet she is drawn to the underground afro punk lifestyle introduced to her by her new best friend Bina. This storyline represents a universal experience many baby dykes have in struggling to belong, by styling themselves using outward symbols that appear to demonstrate to other onlookers that they are an "authentic" member of the Lesbian Nation. Pariah begins with a quote from Audre Lorde which shows that although the film deals with contemporary issues, Dee Rees is knowledgeable about African American lesbian history and writing and is aware of her place within that legacy.

Dee Rees also skillfully takes us on a journey of the complexities of struggling African American family life in tough economic times.  She does not fall into the trap of showing the African American family as existing in a climate of fear and relentless abuse, which is now familiar trope for mainstream films. There is one isolated shocking act of violence, and it comes as the family reaches breaking point around the father's workaholic behavior, the mother's anger and Alike's defiance.

Pariah is beautifully shot with high production values and raises the bar in every way for any minority filmmaker. This film is a must-see for anyone who has a teenage daughter, a mother, a father, or sister: entire families should watch this film. Pariah holds up a mirror to us all. It shows the pressure young lesbians feel in order to conform to gender and sexual orientation rules from their peers in the LGBT scene or those in dominant society because their families are afraid or too ashamed to simply let them be!


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  • Jemma Lunniss - Wed, 26 Oct 2011 17:59:10 GMT -

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    Is this out in the cinema's and if so from when?

  • Louise Carolin - Thu, 27 Oct 2011 12:29:10 GMT -

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    Hi Jemma, Pariah hasn't been picked up by a UK distributor yet, but we hope it won't be long and we'll be sure to report when it has. Meantime, you can keep an eye on developments via the links given above and at the film's Facebook page: