AFI Movie Club: PARIAH – American Film Institute
Pariah Film Still - Adepero Oduye


AFI Movie Club: PARIAH

October marks the beginning of LGBTQ History Month and an opportunity to highlight the extraordinary contributions of the LGBTQ community within the film industry. PARIAH, the feature directorial debut of Dee Rees, chronicles a young Black woman discovering her sexuality and asserting her identity as she deals with the pressures of her family and society’s expectations for her life. The film was edited by an AFI Directing Workshop for Women alum Mako Kamitsuna (DWW Class of 2011).

Up to 40% of the 4.2 million youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ. If you’re an ally or a member of this community, here is a list of organizations doing incredible work and ways in which you can help: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), GSA Network, It Gets Better Project, LGBTQ Student Resources & Support, Point Foundation, Safe Schools Coalition, The Trevor Project, True Colors United.


Click Here to Find Out How to Watch PARIAH Now

PARIAH – Reelgood

Watch director Dee Rees and editor Mako Kamitsuna talk about their collaboration:

Movie Trivia About PARIAH

DID YOU KNOW? Writer/director Dee Rees helmed her first feature PARIAH after making her award-winning 2007 short film of the same name. Rees originally conceived and wrote the project as a feature but then chose an excerpt of it for her Thesis film at NYU before eventually shooting it in long-form.

DID YOU KNOW? Adepero Oduye, Sahra Mellesse and Pernell Walker all starred in the short film as well as the feature.

DID YOU KNOW? Dee Rees wrote PARIAH when she was going through her own coming out process. Producer Nekisa Cooper encouraged her to write the story, even as she was working on another script. Rees said that she wanted to explore her struggle of “understanding that there’s a range of gender identity and that you don’t have to check a box…[and that] her spirituality and her sexuality aren’t mutually exclusive.”

DID YOU KNOW? The iconic drag documentary PARIS IS BURNING inspired Dee Rees as she was working on PARIAH. She said, “I like that film because it really immerses you in the world of ’80s New York and gay youth subculture. It gave a real honest look at the people, their lives, their goals, their wants. PARIS IS BURNING was inspiring in how I wanted the film to feel.”

DID YOU KNOW? Even though Dee Rees is from Nashville, TN, she was adamant that the story be set in New York City. She said, “I felt this was a story that could only happen in New York, because in New York there’s a lot of interstitial spaces; spaces in between spaces, where you’re changing, and New York gives you the anonymity to be who you want to be.”

DID YOU KNOW? PARIAH was partially financed by the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards grants to female actors, writers, and/or directors of short films, feature films, and documentaries. Adrienne Shelly’s work as an actress, writer and director inspired her widower Andy Ostroy to create a foundation in her name after she was murdered in 2006 to champion other women filmmakers.

DID YOU KNOW? Originally, Dee Rees earned her Master’s in Business Administration. Although she would eventually pivot to film directing, she said “All that training helped [me] get investors, business plans, and people to help finance the film.”

DID YOU KNOW? Spike Lee served as an Executive Producer on PARIAH. He actually was one of Dee Rees’ professors at NYU and gave her the first internship she had working in film. Rees, who interned on INSIDE MAN and WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, says she learned a lot observing how Lee “interacts with crew and cast, and how a set should be run.”

DID YOU KNOW? At the Sundance Film Festival, cinematographer Bradford Young was honored with the U.S. Dramatic Competition Excellence in Cinematography Award for PARIAH.

DID YOU KNOW? Dee Rees was honored with a Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Director. She and producer Nekisa Cooper won the John Cassavetes Award and lead actress Adepero Oduye was also nominated for Best Female Lead at the Independent Spirit Awards.  

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-What do you think of the title PARIAH? Why do you think Dee Rees chose that particular word for the title? What does it reflect about how Alike sees herself?

-Why do you think the director decided to start the film with the Audre Lorde quote: “Wherever the bird with no feet flew, she found trees with no limbs.”? What is Lorde’s significance to the Black LGBTQ community?

-What is Alike’s struggle throughout the film? How does the film defy the conventional “coming out narrative”?

-What is Alike’s introduction to the gay club scene like? How does she feel like in outsider both in “straight spaces” and “queer spaces”? What was director Dee Rees trying to convey about the spectrum of gender identity and sexuality? How is gender performative for Alike and her peers?

-How is clothing a symbol of identity and why does Alike change her outfit before she goes home to her family?

-How do race, class and religion intersect with Alike’s identity, and how do they impact her struggle as a gay Black woman navigating the world?

-How is Alike’s family portrayed? How do the filmmakers make them well-rounded, fully realized characters?

-Do you feel that spirituality and sexuality are mutually exclusive? Why or why not?

-What does Alike mean at the end when she tells her father, “I’m not running; I’m choosing.”

-Up to 40% of the 4.2 million youth who are homeless identify as LGBTQ. How can we create a safe environment where members of this community feel accepted, supported and protected against violence?

-How would you rate PARIAH?

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