One of the most fascinating conflicts to watch on screen is the internal struggle of sexual expression. Only after watching important films like Pariah, does it become glaringly clear just how difficult it is to be your authentic self in a world where you feel there’s no place to be the person that you know you are. Adepero Oduye brings that battle to life with her fearless portrayal of Alike (pronounced: Ah-Lee-Kay), a Brooklyn teenager who isn’t really coming to terms with her sexuality per se, but more so struggling to figure out how, where and with whom she can be herself.

Bradford Young’s cinematography does a fantastic job of complementing the genuine pathos of the film with clever mirror shots and by showcasing slits of action through cracked doors at home and in the bathroom stall at school, where Alike slips in and out of clothes that bear some semblance to the person she really is and the young lady her parents expects her to be.

But it’s a juggling act she grows weary of balancing, which results in strained interactions with her lonely mother, played by Kim Wayans in a career-resuscitating breakout dramatic role, and blowups with her BFF, Laura, when Alike starts to blow her off to spend time with Bina, a girl she likes. The impending intimate exchange between Alike and her new (and first) love interest is one of the most tender moments in the film. Reminiscent of Whoopi Goldberg’s star-making turn in The Color Purple, Oduye ignites the screen with a precocious innocence and subsequent fierce determination.

Passionately directed by Dee Rees (she also penned the script while working as an intern on the set of Spike Lee’s Inside Man), the film’s authenticity is palpable – and with good reason.  During a post-screening Screen Actors Guild Q&A, the stars revealed that it was Rees who fostered a loose vibe on set by allowing the cameras to roll during group scenes to capture the true essence of the moment, and she would also whisper wacky direction into their ears right before shooting a scene to elicit surprising reactions, some of which end up in the film.

Rounding out the cast is Charles Parnell, who plays Alike’s gruff, no-nonsense father. The scenes  between Oduye and Parnell are a joy to watch and some of the best father-daughter interactions I’ve ever seen on screen.

Pariah is a heavy film but it isn’t all somber; laugh-out-loud moments of levity are present as Alike experiments with wearing a strap-on penis.

Rees and her producers have done the unthinkable: brought a black, lesbian, coming-of-age film to the big screen. But more importantly, they have created an intimate, groundbreaking bravura piece of filmmaking that not only demands to be seen, but that is relatable to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider – and haven’t we all at some point? 

Pariah opens December 28 in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and select cities starting January.


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  1. Paul

    I just saw this film in DC and it is indeed an important look at a rarely touched upon subject.
    Adepero Oduye gave a great performance and Kim Wayans' portrayal was unsuspecting but quite impressive.


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