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Pariah transcends

Pariah – film review.

In the “Shit Queer Grrrls Say” YouTube video, the “queer grrrl” laments, “Why are lesbian movies so bad?” and I’ll admit I shied away from Pariah when it came to the Toronto International Film Festival last fall partly because of a similar feeling and partly because of the title. A coming-out film about a lesbian teen called “Pariah.” It sounded terribly depressing. I am happy to admit I was wrong.

Pariah is a very strong film. It is funny, charming, touching and poignant. At times it is distressing, but it is never depressing. Pariah is the story of Alike (pronounced Ah-LEE-kay), a shy 17-year-old, African-American lesbian who is looking for her first girl, her first kiss, her first chance at love. Her best friend, Laura, is an AG (aggressive) with a swagger that makes all the girls swoon. Together they go out to the clubs looking for action; Laura succeeding and Alike too timid to try, even with a sure bet.

Alike, shy as she is, has no uncertainty about her sexuality. She is simply trying to find her place in the world, as all kids must do. Her greatest struggle is in trying to figure out how to come out to her religious mother and conservative, cop father without losing their love. Her sexuality is obvious to both her peers and her parents’ contemporaries, but her parents seem to be hoping that by discouraging her friendship with Laura and by remaining deliberately blinkered to her truth, they can steer her onto a path they approve of.

Pariah Alike

Adepero Oduye gives an exquisite performance as Alike, capturing the wonder and vulnerability of a girl who’s world is exploding with self-discovery. It is beautiful to watch the emotions play across her face, in particular, her growing smile as she overhears a popular girl at her school say that she thinks Alike’s cute. Completely adorable. (What I would have given to have overheard some girl talking like that about me in high school. Sigh.)

Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell are very good as her parents. Writer / director Dee Rees has given us insight into each of their lives and how Alike’s sexuality affects them. I especially loved the relationship between Alike and her father. They had a very playful chemistry that helps to highlight what she stands to lose if he rejects her.

Pariah Charles Parnell

I do feel that Rees was too ambitious with the number of stories she attempts to tell. Laura’s storyline, for instance, although an interesting contrast to Alike’s, does not get enough screen time to resolve satisfactorily. Loose ends aside, I found the world created by Rees and the actors to be very realistic. The dialogue is natural and the characters are believable. It feels like an accurate portrayal of this girl’s life in Brooklyn.

Pariah is well deserving of all the awards it has won and I look forward to seeing Dee Rees’ next projects, which include a couple of films and an HBO series starring Viola Davis.

It has been a good year so far for lesbian films with Albert Nobbs, Tomboy and Pariah. That YouTube “queer grrrl” is going to have to find some other shit to say.

For more Pariah goodies you can go to the official Focus Features Pariah page.


  1. [...] You can read our full review here. [...]