Spike Lee’s Protégé is Gay? 



 Still, Rees sees Pariah as more about identity than sexuality. “Alike hasn’t been with anyone yet and hasn’t figured out where she fits on the spectrum of femme to butch, and she only sees extremes around her,” she says. In that respect, Pariah is autobiographical; when Rees came out, she felt out of place. “I’d go to lesbian parties. I felt like I wasn’t hard enough to be butch, but I wasn’t wearing heels and a skirt, I wasn’t femme, so I felt like I was sort of invisible,” she recalls.

Like Alike’s parents, Rees’s were not accepting, but the filmmaker did not experience the physical violence that the protagonist of her film does. Rees came out at 27, much later than Alike. When she did, her parents flew from Nashville to New York for an intervention. “It was a hard struggle to get them to realize that nobody did anything wrong and there’s nothing wrong with me. And I’m still the same person that I was,” she says.

She may be the same person, but Rees has gone through quite a transition. In what she calls her “first life,” Rees got an MBA and went to work in marketing and brand management, first for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati and then for a company that markets Dr. Scholl’s products in New York. “I went from panty liners to wart removers and bunion pads, which for me was an upgrade,” she jokes.

Still, it led to an actual change in passions. While on a commercial shoot for shoe insoles, Rees realized she wanted to get involved in production. She applied to New York University’s film school and was accepted — just like that. Once there, Rees interned as a script supervisor on the sets of Spike Lee’s films Inside Man and When the Levees Broke, where she was impressed not only by the number of people of color in positions of authority but by the number of gays and lesbians. “I’ve seen more black gay people working on his film sets than on any other film set,” she marvels. “I think that speaks a lot to his character.”

Lee has become a valued mentor and is an executive producer of Pariah. “He was always around to read a draft or watch a cut,” Rees says. “He went through our budget with like a ruler, gave feedback, did things he didn’t have to do. He went above and beyond.”

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