Review: The Case Against 8

TheCaseAgainst8 The Case Against 8 is the 2014 documentary about the legal battle to overturn the controversial California Proposition 8, which made same sex marriage illegal in the entire state. Directed by Ben Cotner and Ryan White, the movie works to create an emotional tie to both the plaintiffs and the high profile lawyers who are hired to work for them. The film tells the events of the hard fought legal battle from 2009 until its resolution in 2013. Normally in this type of documentary there are generally one or two main characters that the directors focus on, but here we get six. Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, a lesbian couple and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, a gay couple are the plaintiffs in this landmark case. Representing them are two of the countries most high profile legal minds, David Boies and Ted Olson. The documentary can be broken up into two major sections quite easily seemingly to mirror the very issue the documentary purports to show. The heart and mind of the issue at hand. The 2 couples are the heart of the film. They pluck at your heartstrings and bring in the most human of elements. Their involvement makes the viewer relate to a topic that they might not even have a directly vested interest in. Perry and Stier, both mothers of 2 boys each from previous marriages are the perfect example of what LGBT couples with children must endure in this time of judicial uncertainty. They connect with you, the audience, as parents first. This was an important highlight to bring about whether you agree with their desire to be married on not. All documentaries are designed to put forth a particular point of view, and we must judge it based on that fact, not based on personal biases. The second couple, Katami and Zarrillo represent the future and the breaking of stereotypes. Two young gay men who are fighting against the notion of the gay community being anti-monogamy. They too play the role of the heart of the film. Interviews with their parents who just want their sons to be happy is a heartfelt moment of humanity. Zarrillo, especially, stands out with his speeches to the public prior to the case beginning.

Every socio-political topic has heart behind it, but it also needs the mind to get pass the legal hurdles that may arise. David Boies and Ted Olson are the mind behind this entire case. Their history with one another is what makes this story even more compelling. Boies worked as the lead counsel for the Al Gore team during the Bush v. Gore fiasco of 2000. What is even more interesting that across from him as the lead counsel from George W. Bush’s team was Ted Olson. Ultimately, Olson won the case, but the two men became close friends rather than enemies due to mutual respect for the other’s skills and presence in the courtroom. So when the American Foundation for Equal Rights was looking for co-counsel for Boies they decided to get the one man from the right that was not only on Boies' level but felt strongly in overturning Proposition 8 as well.

Now that all six main “cast members” are in place, the documentary begins to really hit its stride, showing courtroom scenes, deposition dialogues, and such that lead up to the actual arguments in front of the Supreme Court. Even though I knew the outcome of the case, there was never a time where it felt for sure. Credit goes to directors Ben Cotner and Ryan White for still being able to garner a level of suspense from past known events. They also were able to shed light on some internal topics that I was unaware of while this case was going on.

One thing that socio-political documentaries sometimes do that is damaging to them is the issue of the other side. How do you make a pro-marriage equality documentary without coming off bashing the other side? Cotner and White handles this well by just showing video of the defendants and quoting actual material they had written. Taking away any arguments of misleading the public on the issue via this movie. Its not perfect, but it comes close to sidestepping the issue in its entirety, which I appreciated. I don’t need a two hour sermon as to why the other side is the worse. Just show us what your side is doing, and the directors did just that.

In conclusion, The Case Against 8, is a well handled documentary about a very sensitive topic. Concluding with emotionally jarring scenes of not only the plaintiffs, but Boies and Olsen as well was a fantastic touch. The movie worked on many levels, but no minds will be ultimately changed due to it. However, at the end of the day was that even the point? Cotner and White clearly wanted you to see the journey by which these six people made history. Nothing more nothing less, and for that level of simplicity the film works exactly the way it was designed.

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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.

[easyreview title= "Review of Pariah" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="5" overall= false]