Like the film Tomboy, another 2011 film, Pariah, features a young girl not easily accepted for who she is: a tomboy who’s a lesbian who’s black. The film’s tagline: Who do you become when you can’t be yourself? As stated by Adam Serwer in Mother Jones:
Alike is stuck being neither what other people want her to be nor who she wishes she was—which, in a broad sense, is exactly what adolescence is…Alike is not coming to terms with being a lesbian—the world is coming to terms with her being lesbian.
Writer-director Dee Rees based this story on her own experiences coming out as gay.
John Anderson, Newsday: “The gay coming-of-age story’s been done, but ‘Pariah’ has something fresh to say, largely about the knotty complexities of love, and how they might keep someone in the closet: How badly do you need to be free, to hurt the people you love?”
Adepero Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced “ah-LEE-kay”), a 17-year-old living in Brooklyn who has conservative parents—a mom who’s devoutly Christian (Kim Wayans) and a dad (Charles Parnell) who’s a police detective.
As is often the case with tomboys, her parents have some issues about Alike’s presentation to the world, manifested in her choice of clothing, for example. Her mom argues with Alike about her choices; her dad is concerned with how she looks to his guy friends.
The struggles go deeper than this, of course. According to reviewer Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Inquirer:
Part of what makes ‘Pariah’ exceptional is its skill at mapping family dynamics. Alike knows her parents have a fraught marriage (there are hints that dad’s having an affair), and she knows her sexuality is one of several explosive situations that threaten family stability.
Oduye, actually 33 years old (!), told interviewer Judy Sloane (filmreviewonline.com) how the cast prepared for portraying the family issues:
We didn’t have any rehearsals, but we did a mock therapy session. Dee brought in a therapist friend and we did an improv. That was the only thing we had in terms of rehearsal and I think that was the first day I met her. That mock therapy session informed us a lot because so much stuff came out. And we just threw ourselves into the world of our characters…
Below is the trailer:
Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle: “The film benefits most of all from Rees’ careful screenplay, which dances that shifting line between fear and emergent hope. One of Alike’s poems says it best: ‘Even breaking is opening. And I am broken. I am open.'”
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “‘Pariah’ feels a lot like life, at its most confusing, contradictory and exhilarating.”
James Rocchi, MSN Movies: “‘Pariah’ plays like a longer, more complex addendum to the recent It Gets Better campaign aimed at sending messages of survival and strength to gay and lesbian teens: Yes, Rees and her cast say, it does get better, but not for a while, and not without cost.”