PARIAH – 1. A person without status 2. A rejected member of society 3. An outcast
Pariah addresses the issue of having to deal with hiding who you are, afraid of what might happen when others find out. Alike is a teenager who knows she is gay, but hides it from her parents. Her mom continues to make her dress like a girl when Alike would rather dress like a boy. She leaves the house dressed one way, then changes at school. Her father is a cop who seems supportive of how Alike chooses to dress, but has not come to terms with the thought that his daughter may be gay.
Alike knows who she is, but is new to how to handle her sexuality. She is still experimenting. Alike has a great friend named Laura who is similar to Alike, but a bit older and more experienced than her. Laura is Alike’s rock and is showing her how to live and experience the lesbian lifestyle. Laura is also a reminder of what might happen when Alike does come out to her parents. In the film, it seems that Laura has either left her mother’s house or was kicked out. She also has a sister who left with her. Laura quit school to be able to work and afford to live on her own with her sister.
Pariah is a debut feature film from director Dee Rees who also wrote the screenplay. The film was written during Dee Rees’ own coming out process and is based on her experiences. The film deals with the very current issue of gay acceptance. While you may have seen films dealing with this same issue before, Pariah is set in the African-American community. It is clear from the film that the problems for teens coming out as a white girl are the same for an African-American girl. They have the same fears and problems that everyone else does.
The film is extraordinary because of the performances of the actors. Adepero Oduye (Alike), Kim Wayans (Audrey, Alike’s mom), Charles Parnell (Arthur, Alike’s father), and Pernell Walker (Laura) all put in stellar performances that are very realistic and heartfelt. Each actor seemed to melt seamlessly into their character. Kim Wayans is known for her comedic prowess, but she excels as a demanding mom who will not accept what should plainly already be known to her. Adepero Oduye plays a character who I think is much younger than the actress is with no problem. It would be hard for any actor to step into Alike’s character and take the emotional ride without having a personal experience like it of your own. I appreciated that Alike was not a one-dimensional character. She has depth to her.
Pariah deals with a social issue truthfully and realistically. It does not sugarcoat the subject of coming out as gay to friends and family, and it should be praised for just that alone. This is not a blockbuster action flick, but is worthy of a ticket purchase if only to see the actors’ performances and Dee Rees’ direction. It is also a timely film that will add to the dialogue of how gay youths are treated and viewed in America today.
I give Pariah 4 “Girly Blouses” out of 5.