Acclaimed writer and director Dee Rees’ first feature film, Pariah, is coming to the Criterion Collection and is making history while doing so. By joining the collection, Pariah becomes the first film by a queer woman of color to get the Criterion treatment.
If you haven’t seen it (you need to), Pariah tells the story of lesbian high schooler Alike and is loosely based on Rees’ own teen years. Alike, played powerfully by Adepero Oduye, is masculine of center, but her parents are trying to get her to act like a “normal girl.” The film is a beautiful look into the lives of young queer Black women, one of the best you’ll ever see.
The Criterion Collection is considered one of the definitive lists of movies by cinephiles. They are “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films” and for many, seeing a film added to the list gives it an important place in the landscape of cinema.
Film critic Drew Gregory wrote up a great deep dive into the lack of queer women representation in the Criterion Collection last year, and found that out of 1,051 Criterion films, only 18 even feature queer women. 15 out of those 18 are directed by men. In total, when Portrait of a Lady on Fire was added last year, the collection featured seven films directed by queer women, with only three of those featuring queer women.
Even more bleak, there were no Black queer women characters in any of the over 1,000 films in the collection. And no films directed by queer women of color. Until now.
Pariah premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 and won the Excellence in Cinematography Award. It went on to win the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture. In the subsequent years, the film has been recognized as one of the best lesbian movies ever made.
Rees is a masterful director, having earned Emmy nominations for writing and directing the HBO biopic Bessie starring Queen Latifah. Her next film Mudbound was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2016 Oscars, and won a Directors Guild Award, Independent Spirit Award, New York Film Critics Award and more.
The special Criterion features include 2K digital transfer with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio, a new conversation between Rees and filmmaker and scholar Michelle Parkerson, a reunion between Rees and the cast, and a new program on the making of the film featuring Rees, cinematographer Bradford Young, production designer Inbal Weinberg, producer Nekisa Cooper, and editor Mako Kamitsuna.
The release also includes a new interview with author of Queer Times, Black Futures Kara Keeling, and an essay by critic Cassie da Costa. It’s a must-have for any dedicated film fan.
Pariah joins the Criterion Collection on June 29.