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Newcomer Adepero Oduye plays Alike (Le for short), a seventeen-year old
high-schooler living in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood. She's
smart and creative, much to the approval of her parents; but to their
dismay, unbeknownst to them (or due to their unwillingness to accept
and/or approve), she's also a lesbian with a masculine persona, or
simply a Pariah.
Alike lives with her much more girly sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) and parents. Kim Wayans, best down for her broad comic characterizations from the 1990's In Living Color, shows off her dramatic chops as Alike's mother Audrey, a Christian-valued matriarch who doesn't have so much an agenda, but an affliction. She wants the best for her daughters, but her religious subscription limits her ability to love her eldest daughter completely. Unlike most black men in films about black women, Alike's father Arthur (a stalwart, yet relaxed Charles Parnell) doesn't always have his daughter's (or wife's) best intentions in mind, but he's neither shiftless, emasculated, physically abusive or non-existent as is every man in The Color Purple and the like.
In an ironic twist, Audrey introduces Alike to the daughter of a coworker, in hopes of steering her away from the butch influence of her best friend Laura (a cool, thoughtful Pernell Walker). Though her time with Bina (Aasha Davis) assumes a predictable route, it doesn't end as one might expect. To boot, the magnetic personalities of the characters are sufficient enough to make the trip worth it. As well, their shared love of alternative music provides one of the best film soundtracks in quite some time.
In the film's social environment, women who dress as men and love other women are considered pariahs. Feminine lesbians don't fare much better, but they, as well as others, view themselves as bisexuals who are going through a phase. They are not a threat, because of their non-confrontational gender qualities and the belief is that they'll eventually assume a more traditional place in society. It's one of the many conundrums that test Alike and help her become a stronger and better person, as well as writer.
The inevitable confrontation scene between Alike and her folks arrives unannounced without much of a consistent buildup. Yet, steering away from cheap sentimentality, it also avoids any hints of condensation. There are no martyrs or villains, only fully rounded characters.
It's difficult not to compare Pariah to the recent Precious, as there are so few films made about African-American women. Lee Daniel's popular directorial effort was dark, gritty and pulled no punches. And while it over-indulged in a broad range of emotions, it saved face with its sharp social commentary. However, along with the newly released The Help, one had to wonder if the best the marketplace had to offer in intelligent fare about black women is located at the lower rungs of society. It's not that those films are unacceptable and not to be appreciated, but the ghettoization gets to be monotonous.
That being said, Pariah's setting doesn't necessarily break the cycle, but it's a fine example of compelling storytelling. Directer Dee Rees is an exciting new filmmaker with great promise. Moving beyond her personalized debut, I stand in anticipation of where she will go from here.
Such a shame this is so criminally under-seen. What frustrates me the
most is this could have and should have been seen by more people. Focus
Features really messed up the release of this one. If handled better I
could have seen newcomer Adepero Oduye's acclaimed performance as Alike
earning her an Academy Award nomination. She's wonderful in the lead
role. Even comedy actress (and sister to the Wayans brothers) Kim
Wayans may have scored a Supporting Actress nomination for her serious
turn as Alike's misguided mother. She makes the transition from comedy
to a serious role amazingly well (not unlike Mo'Nique's turn in
Precious, though I prefer this less showy role to hers).
I highly recommend seeking this out. It's a great drama with a star-making performance by Adepero Oduye.
This is a tough little movie. Admittedly, a lot of people will be put
off by the subject matter. They may not have even chosen to watch it,
like I almost did, because of the synopsis which calls this a film
about a "teenager's desperate search for sexual expression". My first
thought was, "haven't we seen this a million times before." But I gave
it a chance and I'm quite glad that I did.
At the beginning of the film, I thought I might have made a mistake. The opening sequence of the movie, and especially the lyrics of the song that is playing, reminded me of those movies made for teenage boys that begin with some sex scene to get them to pay attention to the rest of the film. Had I directed it, I would have lured the viewer in more carefully. However, maybe the director wanted to confront the viewer up front. I think this, combined with the synopsis, was simply bad marketing.
Anyway, if you hang in there and stay with it, the film pays off in the end. This is not a film about lesbianism or the trials of urban black families. This is a film about everyone. It is a film about being different from those around you. It just happens that this difference is lesbianism and this setting is a black community. Two distinct aspects of individualism are focused on here. The first is on that which makes each person unique, while the second is on that which keeps each person self-absorbed. Everyone in this film wants appreciation, understanding, and attention, yet, they are unable to see these needs in others.
The acting is superb. I could find no shortcomings in any of the actors. The relationships were believable, the characters, sympathetic, the storyline, strong. So, overlook the synopsis and the opening scenes and you will not be disappointed in this film. You may even wonder why it didn't receive more awards than it did.
For me there is no denying it that this was simply being one great,
little movie! I can see why some people love it but I can also see why
some would hate it. That's the curse and blessing of an independent
movie I guess; you'll either simply hate it or just love it!
For me this was being a very good and interesting watch, most likely due to its original concept. There are of course plenty of coming of age movies out there and also lots of movies about youngsters dealing with their sexuality, among many other issues. But as far as to my knowledge there never has been a coming of age movie, involving a lesbian character, set in the African-American community. It's weird to say, since it shouldn't be such a big deal. Nobody in the free-world should feel obligated to pretend to be someone that he or she just isn't and everybody has a right to be happy in his or her own way, no matter what your background or your sexual orientation is. And this movie of course deals with these issues and does it in a pretty realistic and effective way.
It's actually due to the movie its realistic feeling and look that it all works out so effectively. none of the situations or characters in this movie feel exaggerated in any way and the movie deliberate remains small and humble with its story, settings and characters. It never goes all out on anything and the movie luckily also doesn't feel pretentious at all, not even with its directing approach, which is the sort of approach that easily could had annoyed me.
The approach of this movie is a very fast pace, in which stuff happens, without having a 'normal' movie buildup to it (of course also mostly with hand-held camera-work involved). Some slower moments perhaps would had been nice, so things could sink in better and stuff could have a bigger impact as well but on the other hand this might had gone at the expense of the movie its realistic feeling. So I'm definitely contend with the approach this movie was taking, though I couldn't help but think that some things could had been better and could had made a bigger and more emotional impact. The movie as it is isn't being all that emotional and involving, at least not for me. Who knows, maybe there are age groups and persons out there who went through somewhat the same things and struggles as the movie its main character, who will get grabbed more by this movie and feel emotional involved with it, all the way through.
For me, this movie was still absolutely being one fine, little genre movie, despite that I still had some issues with it.
There are three things, Dee Rees told the audience of the 2011 Out In
Africa South African Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, that they shouldn't
say in a pitch: "black", "lesbian" and "coming of age"; a true but
problematic piece of advice. To suggest that a film about a young girl
coming out is not just a gay film is equally awkward as it implies that
the label is a negative one, which is only true if instant box-office
and mass-appeal is an absolute priority. It's just that, in one way or
another, the message should be conveyed that Rees's debut feature
Pariah is a film about the essence of being.
Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a teenage Brooklyn girl who is struggling to live up to her mother's expectations while trying to figure out who she is. Certain about her sexual orientation, she's insecure about where she fits in as a young lesbian woman and a budding writer in search of her authentic voice. While the local gay club is offering some respite, she finds it difficult to identify both with the studs who throw money at strippers, and the femmes waiting to be picked up by the likes of her close friend Laura (Pernell Walker). And caught up between a controlling, disappointed and worried mother (Kim Wayans) and a disillusioned, tired and caring father (Charles Parnell), Alike, just like her parents and sister (Sahra Mellesse), is stuck in a suffocating web of lies that is keeping the fragile family unit from imploding, while preventing the family members from becoming all that they could be.
Dee Rees and her phenomenal cast don't shy away from complexity and contradiction. Too courageous and curious to surrender to stereotyping, and in possession of the sensibility and wisdom required to capture not just the extraordinary, Rees relies on nuance and small gestures to convey the fears of Alike's father, the archetypal man who is as gentle, loving and sensitive as he is dominating, as well as the qualms of her mother, who with piercing eyes and a sharp tongue observes and comments on Alike's journey.
"Who I am will always be part of my work." says Dee Rees, who hopes that one day her sexual orientation will be the premise of her stories, rather than the story. Pariah relates to blackness exactly like that; as a premise and not a defining condition and problem to be overcome, which is far from the only reason why Pariah is such an engaging and unique piece of well-written, well-directed and well-acted storytelling. One that speaks to anyone aspiring to or dreaming of reaching their full potential as human beings.
This and other movie reviews to be found on the blog "In the Words of Katarina"
My stepmother and I went to a free screening of this movie at the
Angelika Theater. I didn't know what to expect except that I knew the
girl was a lesbian.
This flick features TRULY gifted and believable actors...from the main character, Alike, and her pains and trials, to her young sister in high school and the parents...OMGSH, the parents...and her friend Laura was incredible too. The characters are juicy and rounded; you find yourself truly interested in the people they're portraying to be, and in how they feel. It's almost like you come to know them.
Here, folks, is what to expect from the movie Pariah: this is an emotional film. It's got a lot of humor and heart, and it's got sadness and pain, too. We all remember growing up and trying to find out who we are and what we are attracted to; Pariah will remind you of what that felt like. You will emote as they do and be drawn in to the story right out of the box.
Trust me...this is a movie you do NOT want to miss. Two thumbs WAY UP! :)
-- www.Ramascreen.com --
I don't think it's fair to say that PARIAH is this year's Precious, but I don't blame those who try to make the comparison. PARIAH does have themes about staying strong in the face of adversity, but just like Brokeback Mountain and Albert Nobbs, this film is also about being true to oneself and about acceptance. PARIAH is a bold, courageous feature debut by writer/director Dee Rees and a noteworthy performance by lead actress Adepero Oduye
This obviously is not the first film to champion LGTB but what makes it intriguing, at least in my book, is that it's probably one of the few I've seen, to convey LGTB story by way of urban black neighborhood. Writer/director Dee Rees is not afraid to push the conflicts, to emphasize how hard it is to come out and how frustrating it is for a lesbian to get used to the fact that she may never be allowed to come home to the family she loves. Is your sexual orientation something to look down on or to be proud of? That particular identity conflict is at the heart of PARIAH, the word itself means outcast or despised. It's a very well written script with dialogues and story arc that are riveting. The film has effective humor and its serious tone is at the right dose.
Actress Adepero Oduye's performance is one that deserves attention, it should not be ignored. As Alike, she's quiet and you can also tell when she's confused and scared before she finally gets to be certain and undeterred. Kim Wayans (one of the Wayans siblings) also gives an equally impressive performance. Because I still remember her back in her comedic days but now seeing her unleash her dramatic chops is quite an upgrade. Kim represents every parent who unfortunately considers their gay children dead and Kim plays that role down pat. And just like Brokeback Mountain and Albert Nobbs, PARIAH also presented the challenges of falling in love with someone who wouldn't want to or is too scared to take the chance in fear of what society may think of them. With a dysfunctional family disguised in conservatism and old fashioned values, the film gives the lead character Alike even more reason to break away and choose her self.
-- www.Ramascreen.com --
Writer/Director Dee Rees is an inordinately talented newcomer. If
PARIAH is indicative of the quality of films she will create, then we
are in for a new level of verismo cinema. She tackles a tough subject -
same sex relationships among African American women - with such insight
and care to details that her film jumps off the screen screaming as in
the words of her heroine 'I'm not running - I'm choosing': lesbian
girls are not God's mistake (to quote the mother figure) but instead
have the courage to accept their difference and embrace their sexuality
and still become successful members of society.
Alike/Lee (Adepero Oduye, a fine young actress who hails from Brooklyn by way of Nigeria, a graduate of Cornell University who has studied acting with Wynn Handman, Austin Pendleton, and Susan Batson) is a 17-year old sexually conflicted girl who lives in Brooklyn with her younger very bright sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) and her parents - police detective father Arthur (Charles Parnell) and conservative, overprotective, biased mother Audrey (Kim Wayans). Alike is an excellent student, a blossoming poet, and a lesbian: she maintains tow life styles complete with clothes changes so that she can be the 'daughter' at home and herself outside the home. Alike's best friend Laure (Pernell Walker) is her support system as Laure is comfortable about being out as a lesbian. Alike's home life is strained as her ever arguing parents disagree on many factors, on of them being Alike's need to appear like a man. Audrey arranges for Alike to become friends with Bina (Aasha Davis) who is the daughter of one of Audrey's friends, an encouragement that eventually leads to Alike's surprise first sexual experience with a girl who is just 'doing her own thing' - ie, not a lesbian. This deeply affects Alike, she delves more deeply into her poetry and graduates early because of her shining school record. At a point of no return she is confronted by her parents and the manner in which she makes her decision as to 'run or choose' provides the ending of the story.
The cast is uniformly strong and though Adepero Oduye makes a show-stopping debut, the other actors are equally superb. Bradford Young is the cinematographer who helps create the atmosphere. The dialogue is delivered in street language and is often covered with shouting and with multiple characters talking simultaneously: subtitles help here. But the genius of the film is in the concept and the courage and in the amazing gift for creating meaning cinema that comes across as the work of Dee Rees. She is a talent to watch.
Perhaps Pariah occupies a title that is a bit too heavy for its subject
matter. The film around a seventeen year old girl, black and lesbian in
an urban neighborhood, that is trying to come of age in a time where
she is placed into the rare category of being "a minority within a
minority." She has some friends, a distant relationship with her
parents (not uncommon in teens), and, at the end, her future still has
rays of light peaking through the gloom. I have hope for her, and
believe that labeling her as a "pariah" is a bit too harsh.
The seventeen year old is named Alike (A-lie-kah, played by Adepero Oduye). Her parents are the heavily-Christian Audrey (Wayans) and the workaholic Arthur (Parnell). Alike usually spends her nights at seamy nightclubs, with her friends and a trusty fake ID. She finds it harder and harder to keep her desires and orientation concealed from her family, and, like most girls around that age, resorts to peer discussions which serve as her motivation.
Let's stop right there; it takes no expert to realize that this is a cliché premise. I understand that. What do I say about cliché premises? When taken with enough heart, seriousness, and personality, they can be involving pictures all the same. Pariah gets involved with a number of different areas in film, that usually go untouched in a coming of age picture.
For one, atmosphere is put to great use here. This is a story of urban alienation, depicting homosexuality in areas where we don't often see it. I was reminded of Scorsese's Taxi Driver while watching a lot of Pariah. Atmospheres are brightly colored and vividly shot. Lots of shots bleed with color, and a lot of silence is punctuated by inviting background music, sometimes cut with boombox hip-hop. Both stories depict lonely protagonists, hungering for acceptance in society, but are continuously left lost, wandering in the sea of despair.
Movies like Pariah are wonderful because they showcase new talents in a familiar world. Another fantastic debut this year was Josh Trank's Chronicle, which had a creative premise, determined actors, and a slick script that lacked in cheap exploitation and gimmicks. Pariah was originally a twenty-eight minute short film, created by director Dee Rees, and in just a few years, has expanded the idea into a fantastic film. Spike Lee serves as one of the executive producers, and in many ways, from the gritty writing to the unsettling atmosphere (just like in Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X) it mirrors a film he could've made.
Not to mention, aside from the film's behind the scenes work, it is also a beauty performance-wise. Adepero Oduye is forced to carry a grand weight of the film on her back, and accepts the challenge almost effortlessly, and Kim Wayans as the blatantly harsh mother, holding back fits of rage and attitude is also a well unsung role. Pariah's story is a great one, depicting homosexuality in places we don't think about, another fascinating story of urban alienation, and showcasing extremely well-cast actors performing beautifully written material. If it keeps up, Dee Rees could become the female Spike Lee.
Starring: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, and Aasha Davis. Directed by: Dee Rees.
This movie turned out to be pretty good. Quality black dramas are so rare and this one definitely didn't disappoint. The script was well executed and the scenes seemed to piece together like falling dominoes, rather than a jigsaw puzzle with numerous elements missing. Alike is the main character who struggles with being what she considers her true self. Her domineering mother and the opinions of society causes her to repress who she is, a gay female who enjoys dressing like a guy. The agony of not being able to express her true self shows throughout her body language and face and I thought that was pretty good acting. Alike's mother specifically represented society who represses people's right to freedom through rules and moral codes. Alike's father is clearly having an affair but the mother struggles to ignore it, wanting to maintain her made up happy life. Her choice of ignorance symbolizes society's quest to ignore the realities, of what's truly real about people. The pacing and execution of this film reminded me of something Spike Lee would do.
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