Cross-Post: 20 Years of Black Lesbian Cinema Before Pariah by Salamishah Tillet ›

Dee Rees’ debut film, Pariah, has rightfully been celebrated for its tender coming-out and coming-of-age story of a shy yet sexually curious 17-year-old African-American girl, Alike (Adepero Oduye).

An unprecedented black LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) success at the Sundance Festival in January, the film was immediately picked up by Focus Features for distribution and has since received two nominations for the Spirit Awards, which recognize independent film. In November, Rees was awarded breakthrough director of the year at the Gotham Awards.

Clearly, the movie’s positive critical reception owes much to the brilliant dramatic performances of newcomers Oduye and Pernell Walker, veterans Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans, Bradford Young’s beautiful cinematography and Rees’ subtle yet sophisticated depiction of Alike and her middle-class African-American family’s coming to terms with her lesbian identity.

But Pariah is also indebted to a cadre of often overlooked but no less important documentaries and coming-out films released during the height of black lesbian filmmaking from 1991 to 1996.