Summary: A coming-of-age story about a Black lesbian teen in Brooklyn struggling with identity.
Review: The tragic LGBT teen in films is starting to become a Hollywood cliché. However, the debut feature-length film from Dee Rees, takes what you might assume of a Black lesbian teenager in Brooklyn, cracks it in half, mixes it up and pours out a story that we have yet to see properly told on the big screen. Just when you think every story has been told, here comes Pariah.
With Rees as director, Pariah introduces a flock of undiscovered talent. Adepero Oduye as the lead, Alike, transformed herself into an insecure but hungry-for-life teen. Her performance was so authentic that it had the Gabourey Sidibe in Precious effect—you assume Alike was plucked from a lesbian club in Brooklyn, but this character couldn’t be further removed from her life (Oduye is neither a lesbian nor a teen—she is 33!).
Pernell Walker as Laura, Alike’s BFF, throws some soul on the stereotypical “butch” lesbian we’ve seen in the media. For those who rant, “Why would a woman want to be with a woman who acts like a man?,” please watch Pariah and you will understand that mannerisms do not equate sexuality. If someone is attracted to the same gender, it is their energy that pulls them in—not a fitted cap. Fortunately, Dee Rees, who is openly gay and a native of Tennesse, bucks stereotypes without trying to shove agenda-pushing messages in the viewers’ face.
Kim Wayans is phenomenal as Alike’s homophobic mother who is struggling with her own issues of love. Because we know Wayans as comedic actress, the natural reaction to her performance is: “I didn’t know she could do that!” But if you’ve seen Wayans in one of her live stage shows, you would know she is a beast with any genre. In Pariah, she takes a chunk out of a character that could have easily been the angry Black woman. But with a nuanced script from Rees, we realize she is just as affected by homophobia as her daughter.
It takes a village to get a film like Pariah on the big screen. But the village came together for the best movie-going experience of the year. From the exquisite cinematography to the on-location shots in Brooklyn to an unpredictable story line—Pariah doesn’t end with a Hollywood bow-tie—Dee Rees carved out a gem that rises above gender, sexuality and race. The Focus Features film, which started as a short, is an inspiration for anyone who has a story to tell. Furthermore, any movie that opens with Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” is my kind of flick!
Pariah opens in select cities Dec. 28.