DVD Review - Pariah

Kim Wayans (seated) and
Adepero Oduye in "Pariah"
Writer-director Dee Rees creates this semi-autobiographical movie about a teenage, African-American lesbian in Brooklyn with an annoying but understanding sister, an in-denial cop of a father and an overbearing, highly-religious, working mother. Rees won the John Cassavetes Award, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture and the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film - Limited Release, which I was there to see in person. The distributor, Focus Features, even gave a bit of an Oscar push last year. The movie serves an under-served group, gay black people, and it serves them well, perhaps better than Patrik-Ian Polk, but Rees' scope isn't as wide. Her story addresses something to which many people can relate, but the issues addressed are narrow.

Adepero Oduye stars as Alike Freeman, a 17-year-old girl who dresses like a boy and who prefers to kiss and have sex with other girls. The problem is she's a virgin and doesn't really know how to approach girls that way. Her friend, Laura, played by Pernell Walker, is a young black lesbian who has way more experience than Alike. Laura teases but ultimately tries to help Alike come out her shell.

Alike is nervous to come out because her mom, Audrey Freeman, played by Kim Wayans, is homophobic. Audrey tries to get Alike to dress like a girl. She takes her daughter to church and introduces her to girls who aren't like Laura because Laura dresses like a boy all the time and doesn't hide her homosexuality.

There have been some comparisons to Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire. There are some aesthetic and narrative elements that are similar, but Pariah is more of a love story and more of a story of friendship. It dovetails into a battle between mother and daughter, but it's not as depressing as Precious.

Rees weaves in so much humor here. It's not a lot. This movie is a drama, no question, but the funny and awkward situations that arise from a young girl discovering and pursuing a first romance, as well as learning how to have lesbian sex, are slightly comedic. Rees is mostly poetic for the rest of the movie, culminating in Alike speaking lyrics that are probably perfect for all youth, not only gay youth, but for all youth to hear, including, "I am not running. I am choosing."

What I appreciated extremely was the roles of the two actors playing Alike's parents. Charles Parnell plays Arthur Freeman who is a police officer who is very much checked out of his family. He's barely there. He seems only there to eat, often by himself and without the rest of his family. He doesn't even sleep with his wife. His reaction to the news about his daughter is unlikely and somewhat ironic, yet refreshing.

Kim Wayans who's best known from the comedy series In Living Color plays Audrey, the matriarch. Her reaction to the news about her daughter is also unlikely. It's not surprising. Given the issues she has with Arthur, Wayans has a lot of dramatic material on her plate as a character. The comedienne handles it overwhelmingly well.

I didn't think that Wayans rose to the level of Oscar-winner Mo'Nique in Precious, but I certainly wouldn't have objected to any acting nominations that went toward her. Wayans here is proof that she is just as good with the heavy stuff as she is with the silly stuff.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.


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