Spike Lee’s Protégé is Gay? 



Growing up in Nashville in the 1980s, Dee Rees saw few images of young black women on the screen. And fewer still of black lesbians.

One of the rare times she did was in The Color Purple, but when Rees watched that 1985 movie in the company of her parents, they made her cover her eyes for the most important moment — a kiss between Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) and Shug (Margaret Avery). “When it came to sexuality” — straight or gay, says Rees — “they were very closely watching what I was watching.”

No doubt a lot of women will be closely watching when Rees’s movie Pariah opens in theaters December 25. Her feature writing and directing debut follows Alike (pronounced a-LEE-kay), a black high school girl whose family is coming to realize she’s a lesbian. The film screened earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was picked up for distribution by Focus Features.

Now Rees is joining the ranks of the extremely short list of black lesbian filmmakers with feature films that have garnered mainstream attention: Cheryl Dunye and Angela Robinson. Other black lesbian filmmakers, like Tamika Miller, Debra Wilson, Shari Frilot, and Yvonne Welbon (who catalogs works by black women directors on her website SistersInCinema.com), have put out films deserving of larger consumption, though they aren’t the kind of thing you’ll find on Netflix, even today.

“There’s a dearth of media around young black women and certainly a dearth of LGBT media for people of color,” Rees says rapidly. “Hopefully, this will be a marker in the road, and there will be many more to add to the landscape. There’s not a lot out there.” 

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