Film Review: Pariah. Written and directed by Dee Rees


Starring Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis.

Premiered at Sundance 2011. Won Excellence in Cinematography. Best Independent Film and Best Breakthrough Performance (Oduye) at African-American Film Critics Association.

Pariah is the story of Alike, a high school upperclassmen, and her coming out process. We meet her in the club with her best friend, Laura, also a lesbian. Lee, as Alike prefers to be called, is living a double life, presenting one way when she goes out and in school, but changing her clothes to present another way at home, a way that is more acceptable to her mother. Lee isn’t out at home, though her mother suspects and is doing everything in her power to circumvent the inevitable. Lee’s father is a detective who works long hours and is rarely home. Then there’s Sharonda, Lee’s younger sister. For all intents and purposes, she’s straight and into all the things a girl is into at that age. Finally, there’s Bina, a young lady that Lee is introduced to and forced to hang out with by her mother.

How does one hear about such a movie? In the normal way of things, of course, reading blogs and surfing the internet. The blog I read said it was a poignant film that had all the subtlety that is usually missing from LGBTQ movies. It also said the film as sort of sad and heartbreaking. That did it. I had to watch. I am that girl who loves the heart-wrenching films, even as I curse them at the end for making feel things. The ending is definitely one of those that I cursed, but it felt real. Lee gave no apologies for who she was and how she chose to live her life. Her father, in denial about her sexuality, comes to realize that his daughter is her own person and he needs to support her. Her mother, after an explosive scene, seems content to believe she only has one child. Sharonda, having figured out that her sister is gay at some point before the film begins, tells Lee that it doesn’t matter to her.

The film has two relationships that are central to Lee’s development. The first is with Laura, the best friend. Lee and Laura have been hanging out since before the film. Laura is older, out, living with her sister, and works while studying for her GED. I think I figured out her story, but I won’t give it away. There are two lovely scenes between Lee and Laura. Lee’s mom does NOT like Laura, because she’s gay. She tries to keep Lee away from Laura by setting her up with Bina, the daughter of a co-worker and fellow church member. Bina and Lee have a lot in common, a lot more than Lee’s mother could anticipate. Then, Bina breaks Lee’s heart. The relationship, though, gives Lee a confidence she didn’t have before to be true to herself.

I do want to touch on one last thing. Kim Wayans as Audrey, Lee’s mother, is fan-freaking-tastic. The intensity Wayans brings to Audrey is so spot on. Not only is Audrey paranoid about everything from her husbands fidelity to her daughter’s sexuality, she’s standoffish for reasons that are never explained in the film, Wayans, though, knows. You can see it in her eyes and the way she carries herself as Audrey. Something happened to make Audrey the way she is, and even as I hate the way she treats her daughter, I want to know more about her.

This film wins on all counts for me.

Interesting fact: I made my family watch this film with me during movie night. Mom was not happy. She hates films, and families, that mistreat and/or disown family members for things out of their control, such as being queer.


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