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‘Pariah’ at 10: When Black Lesbian Characters Had the Spotlight

“The distribution model failed us. The people did not,” Mabry said. She also gives a nod to Ava DuVernay, who eventually got the film released on Netflix in 2015 through the film distribution arm she founded, Array. That year Mabry also got her first television directing job (“Queen Sugar,” another DuVernay assist) and Mabry — much like Rees after “Pariah” was released — has worked steadily in Hollywood ever since.

Indeed, there are signs of potential change. Mabry said she currently has feature film projects in development at four Hollywood studios, some of which center on Black queer women protagonists, although none of them are a done deal yet.

Back when Robinson made her first feature, “D.E.B.S.,” a 2004 lesbian teen spy movie that has since become a cult classic, “there was still the attitude in town that if you played a lesbian, it could ruin your career,” she remembered.

After Nina Jacobson, then a Disney studio executive, saw “D.E.B.S.” at the Sundance Film Festival, she hired Robinson to direct “Herbie Reloaded,” starring Lindsay Lohan. With ticket sales of $144 million, Robinson became the first Black woman director to draw at least $100 million at the box office. But despite her gratitude to Jacobson and the crew, the experience left her feeling isolated.

“It was me and 200 white men,” Robinson said.

That was when she pivoted to cable, accepting an offer from the showrunner Ilene Chaiken to direct episodes of the third season of “The L Word,” the groundbreaking show about the lives of high-powered lesbians in Los Angeles. Robinson hasn’t made another studio-backed film since. (Her 2017 feature “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” was an indie.)

But now, more than 15 years later, she has an all-female action movie in the works at Warner Bros., and her desire to cast women of color in the leads was met not with pushback, but enthusiasm, she said.

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