A heartfelt and powerful film that addresses serious issues without stereotyping and feeling cliched.
Pariah is a simple yet powerful story. The movie follows Alike (Adepero Oduye) on a journey of self discovery. Alike is a lesbian and comes from a very strict background, where she fears the worst if her secret is ever revealed. As Alike learns more about herself, she also learns more about her family and the people in this crazy world of ours. She is a real character dealing with real issues and real struggles, which makes this coming of age story really stand out from rest.
Being a straight white male you would think it would be hard to connect with a black lesbian character but this wasn’t the case at all. After the quick introduction into the world of Alike, I found myself really involved with her story and it didn’t take long before I felt my heart really connect with her pain and struggles. When something good happens for her, I was rooting for her and when things weren’t going well, I felt sad. This is one of those rare films that dares to tackle a subject matter that very few films have attempted to tackle. The idea of a black lesbian is a theme that is rarely discussed in films. Its hard enough to be white and gay in America, but being black and gay is a whole another issue.
This film, however, addresses the reality of being black and gay as well as what it is like to be teenager. Its so refreshing to watch a movie that involves teenagers that doesn’t focus on drinking, drugs, and partying. This film tackles the real issues about teenagers discovering who they are and how they feel. Each character is unique and flawed, which helps make this movie much more believable and realistic. When Alike meets and connects with Bina (Aasha Davis) the story doesn’t quite play out the way that the audience expected it to which at least to me, was refreshing yet sad at the same time. It was nice to watch a film that never played to a simplistic ideal, but rather took it up a notch by addressing all these characters as unique individuals instead of the cliched stereotypes that they could have so easily become.
There are so many things about the film that stand out, but its the performances and the characters that really sell this film. Alike’s mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) is a overprotective mother and if that isn’t bad enough, she is also extremely religious. There are several emotional scenes where Audrey and Alike are arguing with one another and as an audience member you feel as if you were watching a real family fight. The passion in these scenes is dead on and feels so deep and powerful. You wonder to yourself, how can someone be so close-minded and hateful? But for someone who doesn’t live with blinders on, I realize that this is in fact, the harsh reality. As much as some people like to pretend this stuff doesn’t exist there are thousands, if not millions of people, who still won’t accept those who don’t follow the beaten path that they believe is right. While hard to admit, hatred still exists on a pretty grand scale in this world.
Dee Rees is behind the camera during this journey and is also responsible for writing the script. The way she captures each scene is almost like a work of art. As an audience member, you are just so involved with these characters and have a wide array of emotions towards each character because of how well directed the film is. Rees captures every emotional moment as if the film was focusing on a real family instead of a fictional one. There are certain scenes where the film just really explodes based on the reactions of the characters instead of relying on their words. This is a tremendous feat for any director to achieve.
As the film ends, the audience is left with a realistic feeling of hope, which is a nice way to end a film like this. In its short 87 minute run time, Pariah addresses so many issues and subjects, yet manages to “keep it real” and not feel preachy and overbearing. It is one of those rare films that I feel will never reach the audience level that it deserves because it really is a film a lot of people should see, but due to the subject matter and audience demographic, I doubt it will. I personally loved this film and was happy to learn that Dee Rees was able to take her short film back in 2007 and create a full length feature. This movie is probably one of the most realistic and powerful coming of age tales that I have seen in years and I highly recommend that anyone that enjoys a good drama because it really delivers in every aspect.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Pariah is a 8 out of 10.