seen @ Museum of the Moving Image, Astoria, Queens, NY
So the last time I wrote about the Museum of the Moving Image was to talk about the Jim Henson exhibit currently on display. I didn't go much into the fact that MOMI plays all kinds of new and old movies on a regular basis, which is awesome because most of the time they come with a special guest or guests of some sort to talk about the film afterwards, be it the filmmakers or the actors or a film critic or historian.
I don't think I've talked about the surrounding neighborhood. Astoria, along with neighboring Long Island City, has become the hip part of Queens in recent years. There's a wide variety of restaurants serving food from many parts of the world, for one thing. MOMI, along with the Kaufman Astoria Studios, are the big attractions, and along with the UA movie theater and even, to stretch it out a bit further, the Silvercup Studios in LIC (remember that fight scene in Highlander?), the area is the place to be for film-and-television-related activity on this side of the East River. There's even a performing arts high school named after Frank Sinatra.
Steinway Street is one of the main drags in Astoria, and somebody, I don't know who, got it into their head that it would be a great idea to install speakers all along the street and pump holiday music out during this time of year. I am a grinch when it comes to the holidays; if I could, I would go into cryogenic sleep from Thanksgiving to December 26 every year and not feel like I've missed a thing. So you can imagine how I feel about heading into Astoria, for whatever reason, during the month of December.
This time, though, I had good cause. I was gonna pass on watching any movies this weekend when I saw on Twitter that MOMI was hosting an advance screening of Pariah, a film that was on my radar ever since I first read about its debut at Sundance way back in January. It's a coming-of-age story about a young lesbian girl trying to make her way in the world. Her parents don't know for certain that she's gay, but they suspect, and they subtly try to steer her away from it - not an easy task.
One can find a few surface comparisons to another recent Sundance hit, Precious: Black teenage girl in New York (Brooklyn, anyway) struggling to find her own path; normally-comedic actress in a dramatic role as the mother (Kim Wayans in this case, and she was quite good, though her character wasn't crazy like Mo'nique's); a schoolteacher as a positive role model. The differences end there, though.
Homophobia cuts across all racial and social lines, but I've found it particularly distressing when it comes from the black community. You'd think we of all people would know what oppression and discrimination in this country is like. So to see a film that portrays a young black lesbian with as much sensitivity and compassion as this does is encouraging. Of course, director Dee Rees is herself a black lesbian, so that's hardly surprising.
Producer Nekisa Cooper was on hand for a brief Q-and-A after the screening, and she talked about how Pariah, a film originally written in 2005 and evolved from a short, was shot in Fort Greene, Brooklyn in only eighteen days, using a single building for many interior shots of the characters' apartments. She also mentioned the support the film received from Sundance and from executive producer Spike Lee (with whom Rees had worked in the past).