Pardon the Introduction – Dee Rees on Working With Spike Lee, How Her Life Inspired ‘Pariah’

Dee Rees, writer and director for the forthcoming film Pariah says that the movie was semi-inspired by her life. VIBE caught up with her to find out how she got Spike Lee involved, and her bright future which includes more films and a TV show feautring Viola Davis.

You mentioned that “Pariah” was inspired by your own experiences. Can you elaborate on that?

Yeah, it’s semi autobiographical. I went through some similar experiences, so like Alike when I came out, I had a struggle with my parents accepting who I was and I also had the internal struggle realizing that my spirituality and my sexuality were infused as forces and so those are things that she’s come to realize on top of her journey to discover that even within the gay world she doesn’t have to pick a box, she doesn’t have to be hard, she doesn’t have to be soft, she can just be herself, and those are things I dealt with in my own coming out and placed them on to this 17-year-old.

How did your parents react to the movie?

They just saw it and it was really transformative. They made a 180 and they said that they loved me and they’re proud of me and so it was a big moment with this whole film process.

How did you get into film and writing this movie?

I started out in business and worked in marketing because I thought that I could be creative and I could do my writing on the side but three cubicles later and three years later, I realized that I wasn’t really happy [because] I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. I was actually on a photo shoot for a shoe insole where I realized that that was where I wanted to be and I went to the ad exec and asked how to get into it and he explained to me I should go to film school. So I applied to NYU, got in and didn’t look back. So it was really a kind of round about way but I appreciate that.

How did you get Spike Lee on board?

Spike lee came on as executive producer as we were developing the film. He was one of my professors at NYU and I interned with him. So, that’s where the relationship started and then he would read the script and give us feedback and then Nikisa Cooper, the producer, asked him to come on board and become executive producer because he was basically acting as one by being such a mentor to us. He just gave us guidance and feedback as we went through the process. It was great having him there, even as we moved on to distribution he was there. We ended up selling the film to Focus and they’ve been really passionate about it. They really get the film on the core level, so they’ve been really collaborative and artist friendly.

What want people take away from “Pariah?”

I want people to be OK with the fact that it’s OK to be themselves and that they don’t have to check a box—Gay, straight or whoever you are, you need to be your authentic self and you don’t need to conform to people’s expectations of who you should be.

What else are you working on?

I working on a TV series for HBO with Viola Davis that I’m really excited about and I also just finished another feature script for something called Bolo that will be set in the south and then I have another feature script called Large Print, which is about a 50 something who is recently divorced and has to redefine happiness for herself. These stories have intricate characters. I make stories that are meaningful and help people see themselves and view the world a little differently.