I’m glad that came through. We didn’t want it to be a PSA but we wanted to address the issue. Sometimes gay is depicted in the media as fun and fabulous, like it’s all good now. I wanted to show that it’s not all good, and the girls are putting on this kind of faux fabulousness. The pier scene is supposed to be very Midsummer’s Night Dream—as the night goes on, the gilt wears off, we see it’s not as glamor-ous as it looks. They may not have a place to stay; they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Can you talk a bit about the role that Spike Lee played in getting Pariah made?
I met Spike as a student at NYU. He teaches a master class there. Every week I’d sign up for office hours and then find something to talk about. Mostly it was the script for Pariah, and he’d give advice on it. Then in 2008, my producer Nekisa Cooper asked him to formalize his role 'cause he was basically acting as a de facto mentor/advisor, and he did.
He would look at drafts of the budget, go through with a ruler and give advice on where to cut. He read the script and gave honest, objective feedback. One of my memories was coming back from the Sundance Lab all puffed up that I had the Sundance laurels on the script. He took a Sharpie to it and was like, nope, it’s not there yet. It really humbled me but he was great in that way. When we got to post-production, he would watch edits, he watched the rough cut, he watched the advance rough, and gave notes on the edit itself. I in-terned with him on Inside Man and then again on When the Levees Broke, and he had more Black queer people on his sets than I’ve seen on any other set.
When Focus picked up Pariah, it was reported that the deal included first-look rights at your next film.
Yeah, part of it was a blind-script deal, where they basically pay me to write a script for them. I’m writing a thriller called Bolo. It’s set in the South, so it’s a harkening back to my roots. And I’m working with Viola Davis and HBO on a new TV series. I’m excited to continue creating characters that I fall in love with and stories that are meaningful.
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