the contextual life

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What to Watch: Pariah

with 2 comments

It’s a commonly held belief that the African-American community is, when compared with the general population, less accepting of homosexuality at best and more homophobic at worst.

Recently, President Obama endorsed gay marriage and many wondered how black voters would respond in the upcoming election. However, on May 19th, in an outstanding display of solidarity with fellow human rights advocates, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution in support of marriage equality, a move that is bound to chip away at this persistent stereotype.

Amidst this flurry of news, it’s suiting that “Pariah,” a film about a young, black lesbian, was just released on DVD.

In this full-length feature from director Dee Rees, Brooklyn high school junior Alike [Ah-LEE-kay], played by Adepero Oduye, navigates her way through family, friends, and love as her sexual orientation becomes increasingly obvious. Early in the film, the audience becomes aware of an inner tension living inside Alike. On the one hand she knows she’s gay, has no need to question it, and actively pursues women as she’s dragged along to gay clubs by her out friend, Laura. On the other is her family. Alike’s mother, played by Kim Wayans, a devoutly religious woman, attempts to steer her daughter toward a more feminine lifestyle through pink blouses and forced friendships. Although one gets the sense that her father, played by Charles Parnell, has the potential to be more accepting — he’s more lenient of Alike’s personal style — there’s a reluctance to confront her homosexuality head on.

For Alike, finding ground between these two worlds is a struggle. “It’s about her trying to find herself and express herself in a way that’s authentic,” said Rees in an interview with KCRW’s film show, The Treatment.

“Pariah” is a reminder to those who may have forgotten the details of high school life just how tumultuous and tortured those years can be. Part of Alike’s charm is how she hangs on with the best of them — getting straight As, leaning on her friend, using poetry as an emotional outlet, and finding a mentor in a supportive English teacher.

Much of “Pariah” is informed by Rees’s life, although it shouldn’t be confused with autobiography. The opening scene where Alike is in a gay club is inspired by Rees’s experience when she first came out — she even used the same song that was first playing when she’d walked in her first time. Although much of the film deviates from Rees’s personal story, “Pariah” has a very real feel to it: there are no gimmicks, no formulaic feel. “Pariah” is one of the most original films I’ve seen this year.

“This is a film about identity … it’s about how to be yourself. … It’s not the typical coming out story, it’s more coming into,” Rees said; and if viewers are open to it, they’ll find that the film transcends the immediate subject matter, giving it a universal coming-of-age feel.

“Pariah,” with its lovable lead character, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. This realistic piece of cinema will leave you wondering: where is the next Dee Rees production?

::[Links]::
Pariah, the official website
Dee Rees interviewed on KCRW’s The Treatment
Dee Rees and lead actress Adepero Oduye speaks with NPR
Dee Rees profiled on The Root
An interview with the Los Angeles Times
NAACP announcement on marriage equality
Behind the NAACP Equality Decision at The Root

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Written by Gabrielle

June 12, 2012 at 7:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. “It’s a commonly held belief that the African-American community is, when compared with the general population, less accepting of homosexuality…” It has been my experience that this “commonly held belief” only exists among liberal racists.

    Freddy J

    June 13, 2012 at 8:42 am

    • ouch. ever listen to The Root podcast? i left it out of my final post but i was referencing their round table discussion.

      Gabrielle

      June 13, 2012 at 5:37 pm


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