Best known as a comedic actress, Kim Wayans takes a serious turn in Dee Rees’ “Pariah,” as a religious woman at odds with her teenage daughter’s sexuality. The move to more dramatic work is a long time coming for Wayans, who says she’s been trying to convince casting directors to see her as something other than an “In Living Color” cast member.
This is a moving, personal film. What drew you to it?
It was just such a beautifully told story and, I felt, such an important story in light of everything that’s been going on with gay children killing themselves and hurting themselves because of all the abuse and teasing and everything. It just was like, wow, this is a story that needs to be told, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Even in so-called gay cinema, the lesbian side of the story doesn’t get told that often — especially the teen experience. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with being in a male-dominated culture. It’s like, gay men are still men, they’re just gay. So they have more opportunities to tell their stories, they have more platforms to tell their stories from, I think, than lesbian women.
You’re in a female-fronted, African-American movie that starts with the letter P — and it’s getting great response at festivals. Do you find yourself having to explain that this isn’t “Precious” and you’re not Mo’Nique?
You know, so far I haven’t really encountered that. [Laughs] I’ve heard the comparisons because of all the things that you listed that we do have in common, but this is a different story. It’s a dramatic story, but it’s a different story from “Precious,” with a different merit.
That probably more reflects the limited thinking of others.
For me as an actress, that’s something that I’ve been dealing with — being put in a box. “This is what you do, you’re a wacky comedian.” So I understand that. It’s easier for people to label things rather than see all the gray in between. It’s the Hollywood thing, and you just have to see it for what it is.
How do you go about finding roles like this and avoiding that pigeonholing?
It’s difficult. You just keep trying. You come across good stuff, your manager comes across a great script, you go, “Oh, I love it,” and then she calls the casting director and they’re like, “Sorry. We love Kim, she’s a great comedian and all that, but we need a dramatic actress.” So what I’m hoping is that this movie opens up doors for me, because now people can see that I can do more than just be funny. But you just have to be determined and keep knocking on doors.