Next Gen 2011: Hollywood's Fastest-Rising Stars
Inevitably, many who see Rees' Brooklyn-set debut feature Pariah will assume the film's heavy subject matter was drawn from the her life. But the similarities end quickly. "Yes, I'm also gay, but I'm from Nashville, I'm a nerd, I grew up in the suburbs, and I came out when I was 27 -- not 17," says Rees, 34. "That's not to say I haven't transposed my experience into the character." In 2000, she left Florida A&M with a masters in business-administration and soon found herself living in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn and at a crossroads. "I got laid off at Procter & Gamble selling panty-liners in 2001 and then got a job at Dr. Scholl's selling bunion pads and wart removers," she recalls, laughing. "I went on a commercial shoot and asked one of the execs, 'How do you get a job like this, directing?' and he said, 'Film school.' So I quit and went to NYU." Today, Rees says she hopes the Sundance darling Pariah can tap into the legacy created by her idol, John Cassavetes. "You don't hear a script when you're watching his films," she says. "You're just watching life unfold. That is my goal as a director."