Review: Pariah

Dees Rees coming of age film is not one to miss. A 17-year old’s struggle with her own sexual orientation and what the implications are for her friends, family, and her own future are handled with such style and grace.

The story of Alike (Adepero Oduye) pronounced A-LEE-KAY brings the audience in at break neck speed into a world of seeming sexual perversion as the film opens inside of a strip club with music with very descriptive lyrics blaring loudly. This scene puts the viewer in a very assumed position about what they are about to watch. However, within moments the entire film shifts, purposefully, to a narrative that is more complicated much like the life of Alike.

Alike’s fight throughout the film is one of who she is, obviously. However, it goes much deeper than that. She knows that she is a lesbian, but what kind of lesbian is she? Alike battles between being a more traditional tom-boyish stereotype and the faux hippie-esque stereotypical lesbian. Neither is long lasting and clearly the true answer is there is no answer. We are who we are and that fact is determined by our actions not a preconceived formula of self.

Friends and family play massive roles in Alike’s transition into a fully open and honest position of her own sexuality. Her best friend, Laura, plays as a mirror to the potential freedom Alike could have once she comes out. Laura is a tragic figure to say the least. Struggling to obtain a GED while working full time, Laura also mirrors a road Alike is best off not venturing as it is implied that Laura is there, at least partially, because of her choice of coming out.

Kim Wayans masterfully portrays Alike’s mother who suspects that she is a lesbian. To no surprise she sees this as an issue caused by Laura being around her daughter or possibly the lack of time Alike’s father is around. Alike’s mother is cold, but there are moments where her vulnerability is laid bare as she knows not what to do with her daughter and the implications of her not being normal. The role of the father is personally one of my favorites. Chris Parnell embodies what can only be described as the anti-‘black man stereotype.’ He approaches the role with reverence. He is real, he feels like a man who isn’t acting but reciting his own life and tragic experiences. He is a stand out here. When Wayan’s character decides to force Alike to befriend a co-workers daughter who she deems more acceptable we get a glimpse of teen sexuality frustrations from two very different perspectives. Dee Rees never waste a moment forcing the audience to consider what they would do in these situations. The events are simply shot and give the feeling that you are there, very intimate and uncomfortable at times. The discomfort of the certain scenes is to emphasize the discomfort of being a teen in these moments. Rees and her cast shine her without exceptions.

Adepero Oduye is by far the stand out in this film and for good reason. From the moment we meet her she is running a life duality. She is truly playing two roles for the majority of the film. She is constantly wearing the mask that best works for the situation she is in, whether with Laura or her parents. Oduye gives a star studded performance; one that I haven’t seen since Precious, but so much more. Where Precious was more of a story of victimization Pariah is one of freedom, and more importantly growth. After watching this you can’t but help think that Precious fell short of achieving something, and that something is what Pariah achieved and mastered. In 2011 my two favorite films where Drive and Shame. In 2012, I think I have found a movie that surpasses both. This is not a film to miss. The tone and topics of this movie are not just for the black community, or the LGBT community. They are for everyone…we are all pariahs in one-way or another.

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