carry the weight.
ODUYE: I felt it right after I knew I was going to be doing the feature. I had played the lead in the short version of Pariah. The short had done really well on the film festival circuit, so people were expecting a lot from the feature. It was this weird space where I had already done the short and when I made that, I didn’t have any expectations; with the feature I was worried about not messing it up and bringing something fresh to the role.
Very quickly I expressed that to Dee, and she put the kibosh on all my worries and fears and told me that I had been working on this for a while and I didn’t need to read anything more or do anything more. That was something I needed to hear. So I let it go and just jumped right in. When we started shooting, it was fine, just fine. It was like a dream come true to have a role like this in a project like this.
EBONY: Dee, on the first day of shooting on your first feature film, what is it like? You had 1000 eyes on you watching to see if you know what you’re doing.
REES: I focus as a director on the moment in front of me. I focus on this scene and making it the best it can be. I’m working with a community of artists—a cinematographer, art director, the editor, lighting crew and the actors. So in that moment, nothing else matters except let’s make this scene the best scene possible. You focus on the scene in front of you and don’t worry about the end or what people are going to say or think because you’ll never escape the “gaze,” and you’ll never get to your true self.
EBONY: I read that you even once sold your apartment to raise money to make the film. It was real struggle, like for any film regardless of budget, to make the film. What kept you going?
REES: Yeah, making Pariah was for six years a real labor of love, but what keeps you in it is the belief in the story, the belief in the characters, the belief that this story has to be told by any means. So that’s why I sold my apartment. If we didn’t invest in ourselves, how could we ask others to invest in us?
You never give up. You do have your ups and downs, but this film not being shot was never an option. So you have your bad days. You don’t get that phone call back, you don’t get the e-mail, you get the 500th “No!” But at the end of the day, you stay relentless, turning over every rock and refusing to take no for an answer, and then it turns out you need, like, only nine yesses. So there’s never any point where you think, ‘This was never going to happen’; it’s just a matter of when.
EBONY: Adepero, with the success of the film, how do you keep your mind clear of all that Hollywood B.S. you’re now encountering?
ODUYE: As an artist, all you can do is to do your best work on the screen. Everything else, positive or negative, is subjective. It doesn’t make the film any more than it is or make it any less than it is. It doesn’t change the nature of the thing itself. I just focus on the work.
EBONY: Were there scenes in the film that were much more difficult to do than others?
ODUYE: Yeah, but it depended on the day and what I had done that week, so at a certain point I began to feel really raw, as if I wanted to close back up. For me, it was constantly pushing myself because I already knew Dee trusted me and had complete faith in what I could do. I never for a moment felt she doubted or wasn’t sure if I could push myself because I knew she had my back. I pushed myself to go, to go further and deeper with my vulnerability and being open to be able to go into those places that my character in the film had to go.
For example, that last scene in the film with Kim Wayans, who plays my mother, when I tell her that I love her. Things came up unexpectedly, and I was surprised by my reaction during that scene. Dee would hear me out and she was like, “It’s OK. We’ll try it a different way,” and that was sort of the process throughout the shooting.
EBONY: As a side issue, Adepero, I have to ask you what was it like doing that New York Times photo spread and video shoot recently where they had famous actors including George Clooney and Brad Pitt