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Posts Tagged ‘lesbian

What to Watch: Pariah

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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

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

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In anticipation of Alison Bechdel’s forthcoming graphic novel, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, I recently read her award-winning 2006 release, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. In Fun Home Alison looks back on her relationship with her father, often juxtaposing her identity with his. Writing after his sudden death, the exact definition of which is inconclusive, Alison uses a non-linear narrative to weave his biography through time.

The book, compiled using memories, childhood journals, and second-hand accounts, opens with a young Alison playing “airplane” with her father. Balanced on his legs she holds her hands parallel to his. This touching moment, known to so many of us from our own childhoods, is cut short by her father’s obsessive maintenance of their Gothic Revival home. After just a few panels, he’s ordering Alison to get the vacuum and tack hammer. The rug is “filthy” and the strip of molding “loose”.

He was a moody man, capable of putting the household on edge. “The constant tension was heightened by the fact that some encounters could be quite pleasant. His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark,” Alison writes. Approaching her father’s life as one haunted by inner torment allows room for empathy and a desire to understand.

Although better known for Fun Home, Alison is the writer and illustrator of the longest running queer comic, Dykes to Watch Out For, a project she ended in 2008 after 25 years. Comparing her own experience as a lesbian — her self-discovery and coming out — she creates a bridge to her father’s homosexual tendencies.

In college, after mailing home a letter that read “I am a lesbian,” just four months before her father’s death, she learned about the life he tried to keep secret. On the phone with her mother, listening to stories of her father’s affairs, her childhood memories were given context: the young men who helped out around the house, her father’s arrest for giving beer to a teenage boy, and their trip to Greenwich Village for the Bicentennial. “This abrupt wholesale revision of my history . . . left me stupefied,” she writes.

Sharing her father’s love of literature, and its function as a window into the self, Alison analyzes the books most prominent in her father’s collection. The highlighted and underlined passages in Camus, his binge on Proust the year before (“Was that a sign of desperation?”), and his seeming identification with Fitzgerald characters.

Alongside the words, the artwork is an equal partner in Alison’s mind-blowing storytelling skills. According to Wikipedia’s sources, “She used extensive photo reference and, for many panels, posed for each human figure herself, using a digital camera to record her poses,” a process that would take her 7 years to complete. Her attention to detail extends to the handwriting in the letters her father wrote while in the army, the carefully placed cultural references, and the maps of her hometown.

It’s been 6 years since Fun Home’s publication and in April we’ll see the life of Alison’s mom through the same astute and questioning eyes. Falling neatly into the category of personal anthropology — an unsentimental, analytical view of one’s life with a focus on its wider cultural significance — Alison’s style should reveal a fascinating portrait of a woman who shared her husband’s burden.

::[Links]::
Buy Fun Home at IndieBound or your nearest indie bookstore
Pre-Order Are You My Mother? from IndieBound or your local indie
AV Club Interview
Bookslut interview
Guardian Interview
Graphic Novel Reporter Interview
NPR interview

Written by Gabrielle

February 28, 2012 at 7:17 am

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