Pariah (2011)

Release date: December 28, 2011
Director: Dee Rees
Screenplay by: Dee Rees
Cast: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, Sahra Mellesse, Kim Wayans

Dee Rees takes her 2007 short film of the same name, re-working it to give us a new Pariah. The film follows 17-year-old Alike (Oduye). Whenever it’s time to go to school (or church), Alike wears whatever she thinks her mother, Audrey (Wayans), won’t bother her with, be it her latest magenta sweater or a gender-neutral ensemble.

When Alike gets to school, she changes clothing — baggy pants, t-shirts and a baseball cap — to become Lee. She is shy and quiet with a knack for poem-writing, so she looks like a fish out of the water when best pal Laura (Walker) takes her out clubbing for some punani.

Alike’s parents are oblivious, or want to deny the fact, hoping it won’t be true — that their eldest daughter might be a lesbian. They frown upon her friendship with gangsta pal Laura, whom Alike’s mother thinks is a bad influence on her daughter. Making an effort to drive her daughter from her possibly gay confidante, she makes sure Alike begins hanging out with Bina (Davis)… but things are never as parents plan them to be.

Pariah has an interesting setting about a girl who knows who she is but is trying to come to terms with it against her surroundings. However, the film is ultimately a coming of age story where a young woman chooses to be free and move on with her life. It’s got a beautiful ending amidst all the heavy-handed repercussion of her actions — which can only happen because we’re such an imperfect society.

Though there’s a bit of humor in between all the seriousness of the story — many  delivered by Walker’s Laura, who manages to get Alike some props for “packing” on her date — the most interesting part of the film is Alike’s relationship with her mother. She is having issues of her own  regarding her marriage, and the falling apart of what she believes is the most important thing in her life.

Wayan’s character seems to be deep-rooted in tradition, despite her husband’s unwillingness to go to church on Sunday — I really have no idea how these two ended up together. She’s almost a little too typical an old school housewife, but I’m aware there are people like her still upholding their religious values that make her push her daughter (and husband) further and further away.

Pariah has really some stellar acting, especially from Oduye who is reprising her role from the short film. There’s a particular scene she shares with Mellesse, who plays Alike’s little sister Sharonda, where they both cuddle during an argument between their parents and Sharonda tells Alike that she hopes she knows that it doesn’t really matter to her, to which Alike just nods. Simple gestures like that are what’s memorable to me.

Rating: ★★★¾☆ 


YAM Magazine editor, photographer, blogger, translator and part-time web designer. Film junkie, music junkie… and lately series (a.k.a. TV) junkie.

8 Responses

  1. Rodrigo says:

    I really wanna see this film.

    BTW, I think Pariah could have gotten recognition at the GG/Oscars if it had the massive buzz Precious had.

    • amy says:

      @Rodrigo, both Pariah and Precious are very different films – Precious is incredibly depressing… a full on melodrama with high tension acting. Pariah feels… more subtle. Precious had the advantage that Oprah was backing it, and it had all these names attached to the project.

      Aside from Wayans, I didn’t know any of the people involved.

      • Rodrigo says:

        @amy, True. I forgot Precious had Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Mo’Nique attached to it.

        Also, my bad for comparing both since both are indie films with black actors. Subjects are different without a doubt.

        • Camiele says:

          @Rodrigo, I see your point about getting the buzz. Precious had the added bonus of big-name stars and producers. It made sense that it got more buzz. However, as seems to be the trend at the Oscars, for the most part, positive films focusing on the Black community don’t exactly get the greatest response.

          I’m in no way degrading Precious; however, the fact remains it was a story about a Black girl who was beaten down until the very end of the film. That seems to be something more people are interested in “hyping”, so to speak. A film like the Great Debaters didn’t stand a chance. And a Black film without a big name attached to it, especially about Black lesbians, fares even worse.

        • amy says:

          @Camiele, you’re right. I’ve seen that “minority inside a minority” comment when discussing Pariah. well, at least Oduye has been included in Vanity Fair’s Young Hollywood… considering that Sidibe wasn’t included back when Precious was IT.

          Anyway- both Precious and Pariah are good in different ways. I would recommend both for a watch, even though I know a lot of people hated Precious.

  2. Castor says:

    I’ve heard good things about this movie so I’m definitely open to checking it out pretty soon. Good to know this is different from Precious, I probably would have skipped it otherwise ah! ;)

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