Thursday, February 16, 2012
The film Pariah has been enjoying a very positive buzz in film circles. I saw the short version of this film at the 2007 Fusion (LGBT People of Color) film festival in Los Angeles and was quite impressed. The 2007 short was only 27 minutes long but was clearly one of the best things at the film festival.
The production team for the feature film version of Pariah is the same as the one who created the original short: writer-director Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper. Except this time the feature has some high-profile Executive Producers (most notably Spike Lee).
The plot is about the coming-of-age story of a Black lesbian named Alike (whose friends call her Lee and whose family members call her Alike). There is an astonishing scene in the beginning of the film in which Alike and her (rather butch looking) friend Laura are at lesbian club (complete with female strippers) where Alike is visibly uncomfortable but Laura fits right in. They take the bus home and Alike demurs when Laura asks whether she should stay on the bus past her own stop in order to see her friend safely home. The reason for this becomes clear. As soon as Laura leaves, Alike transforms herself from a gender non-conforming butch (though even under all her thuggish drag her female attractiveness still shines through) into a proper feminine daughter, applying make-up, putting on earrings, removing her do-rag and taking off her shirt to reveal a blouse underneath. It is an astonishing moment where the inherent conflict of the character is depicted with stark clarity: she has two identities, only one which is acceptable at home.
How the story evolves is not something that we haven't seen before (after all, at their core all coming-of-age stories and coming-out stories are basically the same) but it never seems pedestrian due to two things: the acting and the verisimilitude of the story. The performance by Adepero Oduye lights up the screen and Kim Wayans as her mother is difficult to watch because it seems to real (and repellent). The story unspools in a very realistic manner which keeps the audience engaged and when it ends you are sad, but very happy that you went on the journey.
Director: Dee Rees.
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violent images and brief nudity.
Release Date: January 1, 2012.
Viewing Date: January 22, 2012.
Overall Grade: B/B+ (3.25/4.0).