Focus Features Picks Up Black Lesbian Film “Pariah,” Loves Gay People

Focus Features paid “well under $1 million” for the worldwide rights to Pariah, the black lesbian coming-of-age film that earned a standing ovation on Sundance Film Festival’s opening night, which we suspected could change the world or something. Pariah also made the front page of The New York Times‘s Sundance coverage from last weekend.

Weinstein Co. and Sony Pictures Classics also bid for the film but Focus Features bagged it. It’s part of a two-picture deal because NBC Universal liked the film so much they want Dee Rees to also work on another, yet-to-be-determined, project, which indiewire says totals a “seven figure deal.”

Focus Features has a strong track record with LGBTQ-themed films, having successfully rolled out The Kids Are All Right (nominated for four Oscars this year), Brokeback Mountain and Milk.

A relevant quote from filmmaker Dee Rees:

The biggest surprise associated with making Pariah came after watching the first rough cut when we discovered that this was not a “black lesbian” movie. We had fought this BRUTAL uphill battle in funding the film with financiers and investors balking at the story because it was “too small and specific” (which is code for “too black and too gay”). After we screened the first cut, one of our early advisors went so far as to describe it as “commercial.” We didn’t know whether to slap them or celebrate. After all that time fighting our way through pitch after pitch and pass after pass, we had come to wear our “outsiderness” like a badge of honor. Perversely, we felt like, “How dare you label us accessible?!”. LOL. And even more than that, Pariah turned out to be this nice ensemble piece, not just the single-character driven story that it was perceived to be. I’m completely in love with the cast and the way they opened up all of the characters and made it this richer, deeper piece that has so much heart and life beyond [our protagonist], Alike. The amazing performances gave us such an embarrassment of riches in the edit room that we had to actively stay focused to make sure that it remained Alike’s story.

Obviously Focus Features loves gay people and knows the market (full disclosure: Focus Features advertised on Autostraddle for The Kids Are All Right, which we think indicates SUPREME WISDOM on their behalf), having produced the most commercially successful LGBT films of all time. (Check out Gay Celebrities Picks of Family Films on their website, it’s fun).

A lesbian-directed lesbian-written film about black masculine-presenting women is going to come to your ACTUAL MOVIE THEATER. I can’t even.


Other homo-friendly films from Sundance:


Becoming Chaz

Becoming Chaz, a documentary about Chaz Bono’s gender transition, was acquired by the Oprah’s OWN Network and will premiere in May.



Circumstance, acquired by Participant Media, offers a “rare glimpse of forbidden love in today’s Iranian youth culture.” Writes Jenni Olson, for Filmmaker Magazine:

Here is a film that both embodies and transcends the label: “lesbian film.” All the elements are here — great script, an enormously talented and confident director and a skilled cast that includes the charismatic young actresses Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy (pictured above and soon to be swooned over by teenage girls across the globe). The film effectively immerses us in the experience of two teenage girls navigating the wild Iranian underground scene as they grapple with their attraction for one another against the backdrop of an impossibly homophobic society (and an increasingly fervent fundamentalist brother).


Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same

In Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, three lesbian aliens come to earth — and specifically to the New York lesbian dating scene — with a mission to get their hearts broken by earthlings, therefore protecting the ozone of their planet from the force of their overactive emotions. One alien falls for a stationary store clerk while the other two, turned off by the neediness of earthling women, end up connecting with each other.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3202 articles for us.


  1. “Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy (pictured above and soon to be swooned over by teenage girls across the globe)”

  2. Fantastic news about Pariah. I saw the short several years ago and it was so poignant and well-done that I still think about it. Also good news about the Lesbian Space Alien movie, that’s really a demographic that could use some visibility. bee borp

  3. it’s the two-picture part of the deal for Pariah that is most excellent. the team have worked so hard to get this far, and it’s brilliant that they’ll hopefully be able to pay some debts incurred over the long road to this deal. but the kicker is that they can actually start a new project with a bit of financial support instead of just another leap of faith in their own artistic ability. i wish them only the best.

  4. gaygasm. GAYGASM. persian femmes on film? like, good film? I don’t know what to do with all this representation…I almost feel like I should revert back to my closeted baby dyke days of watching youtube clips of carmen, fantasizing that sarah shahi is actually playing the half-Iranian girl she is…so like, last week.

    sidenote: at first glance I thought that rod was an alien strap on. extraterrestrials are extrakinky.

  5. Yaaaay! I hope Focus brings Pariah to Australia, too!

    Also I want to see that alien movie. AMAZING.

  6. the persian one looks interesting. im sure ill see it and pariah at some point…ill probably hold out on the lesbian space alien one just cause it reminds me of that snl sketch about gays in space but whatevs

  7. I’ve wanted to see Circumstance since I read about it on the internets a couple weeks ago. also Pariah, but I’m not sure either of them will make their way to a theater near me, hmmm. what to do, what to do?

  8. Yay for Focus Features! Pariah sounds like a really good movie. Can’t wait to see it to the satisfaction of my black/lesbian/masculine identified heart.
    This whole article makes me love the world, I almost don’t want to read anything else ever.

  9. Hey — Just want to assure everyone that indeed the other exciting thing at Sundance was that CIRCUMSTANCE was also acquired by a major distributor and will be released in the US for sure so look for it at a theater and get your butts in those seats on the opening weekend. Gossip tidbit — the producer of CIRCUMSTANCE is also producer on one of the most most exciting lesbian feature films currently in post-production, JACK AND DIANE.

  10. Hi I’m from Buenos Aires Argentina, this year make up a story or book of horror genre and I want to spend on a movie with the animation of “Corpse Bride” and “Coraline” with the company LAIKA, must be very gothic and dark, this is my email [email protected], answer me and I pass the story or book
    or page ,and I have the drawings of the main characters, only assemble the dolls, contest please

  11. I’m so looking forward to Pariah, it sounds great. And I watched the trailer of Circumstance, those two girls are really incredibly beautiful!

    btw, the story of the alien flick sounds painfully realistic ;).

  12. Pingback: Focus Features Buys Worldwide Rights to Dee Rees’ ‘Pariah’ at Sundance Film Festival | CDInsight

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