Writer/director Dee Rees’ drama Pariah is a compelling coming-of-age drama about a teenage girl named Alike (Adepero Oduye) who struggles to be who she knows she really is. Alike (or “Lee” for short) is a lesbian, but she has to hide away her true sexuality from her family—particularly her very traditional, closed-minded mother (Kim Wayans). Much to her mother’s disapproval, Lee is best friends with Laura (Pernell Walker), a lesbian girl who tries to guide Lee to be more herself by frequenting a lesbian nightclub with her. But with the thought of what her family might say about her being gay, Lee finds it next to impossible to be who she truly is.
The film’s focus obviously is on Lee’s struggles at being her true self and it does so in a very compelling and honest way. What I admire highly about Pariah is that it doesn’t go for the easy answers or “the Hollywood way” when it comes to the subject of being gay, “coming out” and finding acceptance in not only society but within one’s family as well. As Lee’s forceful mother, Wayans (probably more known as being a “Wayans sister” to the famous comic brothers) gives a surprisingly good, dramatic performance here. But the film all rides on Oduye’s shoulders and she’s more than up for the task. By feeling for Lee’s struggles all the way, Oduye gives a very genuine, emotionally powerful, award-worthy performance here. She’s a young actress I hope to see and hear more about in the future.
It’s unfortunate that the only way I even learned of this film is by seeing it briefly on the DVD shelves at Best Buy. It’s a shame Focus Features didn’t promote it when it was out theatrically because it deserved a lot more recognition than it ultimately got, particularly for Oduye and her performance, whom I liken to Gabourey Sidibe’s more recognized work in 2009’s Precious. But being the avid hunter of quality indie dramas, I’m glad I discovered it and I couldn’t recommend it more highly.
4 ½ out of 5 stars
A Brooklyn teenager juggles conflicting identities and risks friendship, heartbreak and family in a desperate search for sexual expression.
To learn more about Pariah, visit the official Web site.