Mar 15

“Pariah”: Black Tomboy Lesbian Tries to Be Herself

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 AndersonNewsday: “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. Alike’s parents have significant issues, which makes her orientation even more threatening to family stability.

Selected Reviews of Pariah:

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.'”

Ella Taylor, NPR: “…Pariah is the finest coming-of-age movie I’ve seen in years, the work of a fledgling artist who fully deserves the support she received from the Sundance Institute and other indie promoters of a new generation of black filmmakers.”

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.”

Mar 14

“Tomboy”: 10-Year-Old Girl Not Committed to Her Birth Sex

In the French movie Tomboy (2011), directed by Céline Sciamma, a 10-year-old girl named Laure (Zoé Héran) moves into a new neighborhood one summer and, only among her peers, pretends to be a boy named Mikael.

Sciamma has said that she sees the film as portraying “a child’s first real life experiment with gender.” My source? Skip the Makeup, a blog that discusses transgender issues as portrayed in film and other media. The same post also states that Sciamma used the English term “tomboy” for the title because the French term would be “garçon manqué”—which interprets as “failed boy,” a meaning she didn’t want to convey.

Much of what we see in the film is the day-to-day life of Laure at home with her younger sister and her parents—a loving family—who don’t at first know about her other identity. This alternates with us seeing Mikael at play, trying to fit in with his new friends. Significant anxiety is generated in us as we watch—we’re afraid of various things that may go terribly wrong if/when he/she gets “caught” by the other kids.

Skip the Makeup describes what’s likely to be the developmental process of a kid like Laure/Mikael:

For most 10-year olds, it’s not an either/or situation (even if it is for many trans kids) and no matter what the identity is, it might be years before the parents will even permit them to go in any direction away from the mainstream. Mostly, I left the film with a profound sadness thinking about what the main character will go through when puberty starts next year. Not that it’s a carefree summer by a long shot but, basically, it’s all going to go downhill from here.

Selected Reviews

Melissa AndersonVillage Voice:Tomboy astutely explores the freedom, however brief, of being untethered to the highly rule-bound world of gender codes.”

Roger Ebert:Tomboy is tender and affectionate. It shows us Laure/Mikael in an adventure that may be forgotten in adulthood or may form her adulthood. There is no conscious agenda in view. There is just a tomboy. Not everyone needs to be slammed into a category and locked there.”

Jennie PunterGlobe and Mail: “Tomboy reveals a side of pre-adolescence rarely (if ever) depicted on the big screen, yet it never feels like a curiosity piece, nor is Laure (Zoé Héran), the titular character, portrayed as an outsider from a troubled home.”