December 9, 2011 -- Director Dee Rees is making some big waves with her new breakout film, “Pariah” about a young lesbian trying to break out of the confines of her restrictive family and make her own way in life. This fresh new angle on teen sexuality goes well beyond the usual film treatment of this material, creating memorable characters and real drama. In some ways, it reminds me of last year's fine film, “Precious.”
Adepero Oduye (“Half Nelson”) stars as Alike, a precocious high school student who is hiding her lesbian identity from her conservative parents. Her mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans of “Dance Flick”) is very conservative Christian. She suspects Alike is a lesbian. She tells Alike accusingly, “God doesn't make mistakes.” Her father, Arthur (Charles Parnell of the “Crash” TV series) is in denial. He is also less religious and less judgmental. Alike leaves for school in the morning dressed like a girl, but changes into boys clothes at school. Her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker) is also a lesbian, who also is rejected by her parents, and by Alike's mother as well.
Alike struggles to keep her secret, which is becoming increasingly difficult as more people become aware of who she really is. Laura becomes angry with Alike when Alike is attracted to another girl. Alike's parents are also not getting along well. Arthur, a policeman, is spending more time away from home, as is Alike. Finally, during a big argument, Alike admits to her parents that she is a lesbian, which turns the argument into a violent fight.
Alike, who is a poet planning to attend college, expresses her feelings in poetry. She tells her father that she is not running away, but she is choosing to leave in order to live her own life. In two heartbreaking scenes, Alike and Laura both try to talk to their mothers, but are rejected. Alike tells her mother that she loves her, but her mother doesn't say the same. Instead, she gets up and tells Alike, “I'll pray for you,” and leaves. If you are looking for hot lesbian sex scenes, this is not that kind of film. It is about lesbians, their relationships to each other and their families, but it isn't really about sex. There is a depiction of two women kissing, but the sex in the film doesn't get explicit.
The film establishes strong, complex characters. The relationships and conflicts between the characters, even between Alike and her mother, are not simple ones. These characters, their actions and interactions are also very believable. The motivations make sense. The rift between Alike and her mother is a deep one. There is no easy solution. This is a powerful and moving film. Most films about homosexuals are about men, and most of those are white men. This film explores sexuality from a different angle. It rates a B+.
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