CNN gave some quality airtime Friday to the director of a film on the coming-out story of a lesbian teenage girl. The movie "Pariah" was sponsored by LGBT organizations at the 2011 Sundance film festival and was a featured selection at an international LGBT film festival in Washington, D.C.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the storyline is about 17 year-old teenager Alike who "feels trapped between the straight world, and the butch lesbian scene in Brooklyn. The film chronicles her silent journey to embrace her identity."
Anchor Fredricka Whitfield commended "Pariah" director Dee Rees on her "thought-provoking" story and observed that "this movie is exploring some pretty deep topics, and very personal ones." Whitfield asked no tough questions of Rees on the message of "Pariah" and instead teed her up to explain what the film is trying to accomplish.
Viewers can read the transcript of the interview, which aired on December 9 at 1:55 p.m. EST, below:
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: Alright now to the streets of Brooklyn, New York, where a movie is taking on some difficult but important topics about identity, family, and acceptance.
[HEADLINE: To Be A "Pariah": Movie Explores Identity, Acceptance, And Being Gay]
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Your daughter is turning into a damn man right in front of your eyes, and you can't –
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I am broken. I am broken open. Breaking is freeing. Broken is freedom. I am not broken. I am free.
(End Video Clip)
WHITFIELD: "Pariah" is already receiving critical acclaim. The director was recently named "Breakthrough Director of the Year," at the Gotham Awards. The movie's director, Dee Rees, is on the phone with us right now. So Dee, the title "Pariah" is really telling. First of all, congratulations on the accolades you've most recently received.
So this movie is exploring some pretty deep topics, and very personal ones. Explain.
DEE REES, writer/director, "Pariah": Yeah, I really wanted to (Unintelligible) story about identity. And so in this story we meet Alike, a 17 year-old who, you know, knows her sexuality but is having problems trying to be that. And so she's in this tug-of-war between who her best friend wants her to be and who her parents want her to be. And comes to learn that she can just be herself.
WHITFIELD: Was it difficult getting "Pariah" off the ground?
REES: It was. Actually, the most difficult part was the financing. Because I first wrote the script back in 2005, so it's been a six-year labor of love. And so the producer Nekisa Cooper worked tirelessly and got a lot of private investments and we sold our apartment in Brooklyn, New York to invest in the film ourselves. And we certainly believe that the story needed to be told, and (Inaudible).
WHITFIELD: So what was it about the story, the experience, of being a lesbian in America, that you felt that needed to be portrayed in "Pariah"? What was, I guess, the real arc that you're trying to convey?
REES: Well, the biggest things in the film are about not checking a box and kind of not conforming your life or yourself to others' expectations. In this film, Alike comes to discover herself, and she transforms the people around her just as much as they transform her. And it's important that people have freedom and just know that they're allowed to proclaim and to live in their own identity.
WHITFIELD: And so you apparently used some rather unconventional methods in which to get your actors inspired to help tell this story. For one, I understand you didn't have any traditional rehearsals. What do you mean?
REES: Yes. I don't like typical line readings, because for me as a director it's more important that the actors understand the why of what they're saying versus what they're saying. And also have a clear understanding of the relationships and the dynamics between themselves. So I sent Adepero Oduye, who plays Alike, and Pernell Walker, who plays Laura, in costume to Dave and Buster's Times Square, so they could feel what it's like to be a lesbian woman in a straight environment. And then I also sent them in costume to a lesbian club so they could feel what it's like to be in that environment. And so that really gave them a chance to walk in their characters' shoes and really immerse them in the world.
And similarly, I had the four actors who played the family members – Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell as Arthur and Sahra Mellesse as Sharonda – and I sent them to psychotherapists. So like I had a mock therapy session so they could sit on a couch and literally just bounce off each other and have talking points that this family was, struggling with. And in that way they really got a sense of the dynamics and really were able to relate to each other as a family versus just line-reading.
WHITFIELD: Writer and director Dee Rees of "Pariah." Congratulations on a thought-provoking project.
REES: Thanks so much. I'm excited for people to see the film and really believe that it transcends race and sexuality, no matter who you are or where you're from. There's going to be something that everybody's going to be able to relate to in this film.