Black, lesbian and troubled home life? New film ‘Pariah’ hits as a middle-class ‘Precious’

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE  |  A closeted 17-year-old (Adepero Aduye, right) shares a moment with her clueless mom (Kim Wayans) in ‘Pariah.’

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE | A closeted 17-year-old (Adepero Aduye, right) shares a moment with her clueless mom (Kim Wayans) in ‘Pariah.’

3 out of 5 stars
Adepero Aduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis, Kim Wayans
Rated R. 85 mins. Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia


While politicians debate whether life begins at conception, dudes know it begins at puberty, when we start masturbating hourly until we can interact sexually with others.

An exception might be for gays, who begin life when we come out, becoming aware of who we are and finally knowing for sure what we want.

Pariah is a realistic portrait of a young woman who, at 17, knows who she is and what she wants but hasn’t quite figured out how to act on it. Things are complicated because she’s lesbian and has to worry about the reactions of peers and parents.

Alike (Adepero Aduye) doesn’t care about the kids at school, who have figured out from her butch demeanor that she’s not exactly a girly-girl, but her folks are something else entirely. Her father, Arthur (Charles Parnell), is a police detective with homophobic friends, but he’s clueless where Alike (ah-LEE-kay) is concerned. Her mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans), is a control freak who can’t wait for Alike to outgrow her “tomboy phase.”

On the positive side, Alike is lucky to have Laura (Pernell Walker) as a BFF, confidante and tour guide through the coming out process and the lesbian subculture. “You need to pop that damn cherry of yours,” Laura tells Alike, going so far as to buy her a strap-on (though perhaps not the most appropriate model).

Perceiving Laura as a bad influence on her daughter, Audrey tries to keep them apart. She forces Alike to spend time with Bina (Aasha Davis), the daughter of a church friend. But the plan backfires for better — and worse — than any of them could have expected, as Bina unintentionally drives a wedge between Alike and Laura.

Anyone who’s ever been a teenager can relate to the emotions involved when one changes besties, and it gets more complicated when sex is involved.

When Alike finally comes out at home the reactions are predictable. Audrey is too bourgeois to go all Mo’Nique on her ass, but the scene is at least semi-Precious.

Indeed, with its hard look and African-American setting, Pariah easily recalls Precious, though it’s more reined in in just about every way, so it doesn’t afford the opportunity for attention-getting histrionics that win awards.

This has been a long project for filmmaker Dee Rees, who wrote it as a feature several years ago, then made a short version in 2007 that played the festival circuit. The result is praiseworthy and I suspect Rees will feel rewarded when she sits in a theater and hears even straight girls cheering on Alike, as you’ll want to.

At any rate, life begins for Alike in the course of Pariah — and careers begin for Rees and Aduye as a result.

— Steve Warren

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Woman’s world

Rodrigo Garcia has made a career telling stories from a female perspective, a style he turns on its head in ‘Albert Nobbs’


THE BUTLER DID IT Rodrigo Garcia, above right, directs Glenn Close, left in the gender-bending drama ‘Albert Nobbs.’

It’s not even 7 a.m. in California, but Rodrigo Garcia has already been awake for hours. He’s been in production on a series he’s shooting for the web about female characters.

It is nothing new for Garcia to be telling stories about women, although the format — webisodes — may seem a bit out of place for someone best know for writing and directing feature films and premium cable series. But it doesn’t bother Garcia — he lets his interests lead his career, not vice versa.

“What’s still driving my interest is the content — issues of identity, family dynamics … those kinds of things,” he says. “The studios are making less of those now, and more tentpole and high concept movies for young people. So why not the Internet? The platforms are still being explored. The draw is where can you tell stories that interest you.”

And the stories that have interested Garcia have often been those related to women, and frequently gay characters, as in his new film Albert Nobbs.

This is not unique in Hollywood, although it does put him in some rarefied company.

“There is a long line of male directors interested in female characters, from Bergman to Truffaut and Antonioni, all of whom had female characters at the center. Also Cukor and Minnelli in Hollywood. It’s not uncommon for guys to just go there.”

Garcia’s career arc has been rangy but compelling. He received an Emmy nomination for directing the pilot of Big Love, the HBO series about modern-day polygamists — another topic rife with women’s issues. He helmed several episodes of Six Feet Under, which famously had several gay characters, and was even invited by his friend Ilene Chaiken to direct The L Word, though he was never able to schedule it. (“I liked that show, obviously I felt comfortable with the subject matter,” he says.) His feature Nine Lives told interconnected stories of women, many about gay life.

But it started for Garcia with his first film, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her, a portmanteau of shorts about women. It wasn’t his initial intent, though, to tell only women’s stories.

“When I was writing that movie, I wrote the women first. They were so complex, I just kept going. Ultimately, I don’t feel the movies are about women or female problems but things that interest me. But the subject matter could be male also, like the ties that bind us.”

Garcia walks the razor’s edge between male and female with his latest film, Albert Nobbs, which begins a staggered release this week (it opens in Dallas in late January). In it, Glenn Close plays Albert, a servant in an Irish hotel who for 30 years has been a gentleman’s gentleman.

Only Albert was born a woman, and has chosen to live her life as a trans man in an era where there simply was no definition of that. When Albert meets another woman living on the down-low, and begins to explore his feelings for a young chambermaid, his life is turned upside-down. The set-up means Garcia addresses issues of male-female identity with rare depth.

“The themes and conflicts were very strong. Albert is beyond from being ‘inside a closet’ — she has erased herself and supplanted it with her butler, now in her 50s.

I’ve started to recognize [the theme in my work] where you can’t live with someone and you can’t live without them. In the movie, the young girl that was Albert — I don’t even know what the young girl was called — and [the adult] Albert is that relationship.”

It was a reunion of sorts with Close, who worked with Garcia on both Things You Can Tell and Nine Lives. Close also produced and co-wrote the screenplay to Albert Nobbs.

As unusual as the plot may seem, Garcia says there are “many, many instances” of women hiding out as men to make their livings, working as butlers, or even as coal miners. Making the audience believe this could happen, though, is another matter.

“It’s happened many times where you’re in a public place and you see someone and you think, ‘Is that a man or a woman?’ But you would never consider asking them, ‘Are you something else?’ As long as you believe those around her couldn’t see it, you believe it. It’s extremely hard to pull off, but it didn’t worry me with Glenn.”

Garcia insists Close wore very little makeup to achieve the effect. “You don’t want the audience to feel like they didn’t even try so the nose is sort of a masculine version of the nose that sits on Glenn’s face and the ears are a little bigger — that’s it,” he says.

“The movie is about closets and what you have to repress to fit in, but it was not about a gay character because she’s not gay or straight — she’s erased that, too. It’s so sad she has to hide who she is.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Renee O’Connor film looks to add Facebook fans

Renee O'Connor in Beyond the Farthest Star
Actress Renee O’Connor and producer Benjamin Dane on location in Leonard, Texas, filming “Beyond the Farthest Star.”

Back in April, we published this interview with Renee O’Connor, the straight actor who earned herself an army of devoted lesbian fans with her role as the sweet and sexy Gabrielle on the TV series “Xena: Warrior Princess.”

O’Connor was, at the time of the interview, on location in Leonard, Texas — just northeast of Dallas — filming a movie called “Beyond the Farthest Star,” about a preacher, his wife, their daughter and the secrets they have been keeping. It’s not the kind of movie we would usually cover in Dallas Voice; there’s nothing LGBT-related in the storyline. But hey, I was a “Xena” fan, too, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to interview O’Connor. Plus, I know there are plenty of lesbians out there who still follow O’Connor’s career and would be interested in her latest venture.

This week, I got an e-mail from Benjamin Dane, a local actor who not only has a role in “Beyond the Farthest Star,” but is also one of the film’s producers. And he is once again reaching out to O’Connor’s lesbians fans to help get the word out about the movie:

“The new film, ‘Beyond the Farthest Star,’ starring Renee O’Connor is up to 3,400 fans on Facebook. In the last week, fan numbers have increased over 1,500. In an effort to spread the word about the film as it is in post production, we are setting a goal for 5,000 Facebook fans by Aug. 31. We need another 1,600 fans in nine days. I know Renee has a powerful fan base and I am hoping it can be rallied to help us reach our goal.”

He also noted that the movie’s website includes a “fan-driven demand/release” program called “Bring It,” where fans can, basically, vote to have the film screened in their area. He explained:

“This innovative system gives us more ammunition with our distributors. We have three distributors interested, but if we have numbers to prove interest from fans, it gives us more bargaining power. The fans literally can bring the film to a cinema near them if there are enough votes! As of right now, there are 202 American cities and 7 different countries that want ‘Beyond’ to screen in a theater in their community! And this is without a trailer! We are working on a trailer and it will be presented, however numbers are starting to grow on buzz alone!”

And, Dane said, the “Bring It” button is also on the film’s Facebook page. He also had a special message to O’Connor’s fans:

“I know Renee and Xena fans. I have spoken to a lot of you and understand your passion and love for Renee. I cannot wait for you to see her in this powerful performance. I have seen rough edits of the film and it is very dynamic. It is emotional, intense and compelling. I look forward to sharing with you all!”

The film also stars Todd Terry, Cheramie Leigh, Barry Corbin, Lou Beatty Jr. and more. It was written and is directed by Andrew Librizzi, and is co-produced by Dane and Sally Helppie.

And by the way, the Dallas Metro area is leading, by a big margin, in the “Bring It” vote count.

—  admin

CNN features surrogate dads, surrogate and egg donor, in ‘Gary and Tony Have a Baby’

John Weltman (back, right) and family
John Weltman (back, right) and family

John Weltman of Circle Surrogacy sent me a note that a new film following one of their couples premieres on CNN on Thursday, June 24 at 7 p.m. (Central Time).

Weltman was in Dallas recently for a seminar on surrogate parenting.

The film, “Gary and Tony Have a Baby,” follows Gary and Tony, a New York couple together for more than 20 years, through their surrogacy. Film crews documented the 15-month process from choosing a known egg donor, building a relationship with a strongly motivated surrogate and her supportive husband through the birth of their child.

The film is part of CNN’s “In America” series.

“They chose and personally met a known egg donor, a unique Circle option which provides access to future updates of the donor’s medical history, and allows the future child to benefit from the proven psychological advantages of meeting the donor and fully knowing his or her biological origin.

“Tony and Gary were matched with a surrogate who was fully screened not just for her medical suitability, but also to make sure she was legally suited to their circumstances, highly motivated, and fully supported by her husband.

“These and other measures are part of Circle’s strategy for successful surrogacy journeys, the result of 15 years of experience and a staff composed primarily of surrogacy veterans: parents, surrogates and egg donors. Circle is also unique in screening intended parents to, among other things, ensure that they are willing to treat the egg donors (who sometimes are friends or family members) and surrogate mothers with the full respect and appreciation they deserve.”

Weltman founded Circle Surrogacy and is a father of two boys born with the help of the same surrogate mother.

— David Taffet

—  Dallasvoice