Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, January 20th, 2012
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Charles Parnell, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis
Written & Directed by Dee Rees (feature film debut)
Pariah is a small independent film dealing with familiar universal themes. At the same time, it also tackles specific subject matter - a teenage lesbian trying to find her way in the world. Small or otherwise, this is one of the most powerful films in recent release, featuring a relatively unknown ensemble of talented actors and actresses that paint a very stark picture of family and the society in which we live.
Young Alike (ah-leek-ay) is a young African-American girl who lives in her parents' Brooklyn home along with her younger sister. Their marriage is on the fritz, but they remain together. This is due in part to their traditional old-school beliefs, mixing strict religion and a 1950s-style family-nucleus mentality. The movie doesn’t take place in the 1950s though, it takes place in present day. Alike’s lifestyle forces her to hide her real identity, and without a family to fall back on she desperately begins seeking human compassion and companionship.
Her mother is a loving but over-bearing control freak, played by Kim Wayans. She attempts to introduce new influences into Alike’s life to try to get her to break out of her shell. Her mother suspects certain things about her daughter but has convinced herself that Alike is just going through a phase…to accept her for who she is would mean failure and shame as a Christian parent. The strong father, played by Charles Parnell, is not even at the point of recognizing a “phase,” as he is in explicit denial of his daughter’s life.
The family still connects each night for family dinner, and in the first dinner scene you feel the strength of the acting and the intelligence of the script. Pariah has amazing authenticity in its situations and characters. Fairly new to the spotlight, actress Adepero Oduye is riveting in one of the year's best performances as Alike. Equally powerful are Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell as the struggling parents who cannot find acceptance in their hearts. Pernell Walker, as Alike’s closest friend, is also strong. Pariah is undoubtedly one of the best ensembles of the award year.
Perhaps not as graphic or saddening as 2009’s Precious, Pariah is just as convincing as real life drama. The film’s poster defines Pariah as “A person without status, a rejected member of society, an outcast.” This film is not about being black, or one’s sexual preference. It’s about acceptance, and identity. The unexpected connections that I found relating to Alike’s struggles were a bit surprising being that I’m a straight white kid from the suburbs. Regardless of color or creed, we collectively try each day to find our place in the world, and Pariah acts as a mirror to the harsh realities that we all face.
When a film can strike the very core of this human commonality, it is worthy of much praise. You're not going to find Pariah in every movie theatre, but it is a film I strongly suggest seeking out
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