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  Pariah One Of The Girls
Year: 2011
Director: Dee Rees
Stars: Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Aasha Davis, Pernell Walker, Charles Parnell, Sahra Mallesse, Shamika Cotton, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Afton Williamson, Zabryna Guevara, Kim Sykes, Rob Morgan, Nina Daniels, Jeremie Harris
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alike (Adepero Oduye) is a seventeen-year-old high school student who has been hoping to pursue her interest in creative writing and take that interest to college after she graduates. But there is an inner life she has that is really only known to her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker), for they are both lesbians, it's just that Laura has ventured out of the closet, for better or worse - her mother, for one, has stopped speaking to her as a result and threw her out of the house. This experience makes Alike wary of talking plainly to her parents (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell), though her little sister has already twigged about Alike's gender...

Pariah was one of what became an avalanche of gay coming of age movies over the next few years, not that it was unique in 2011 when it was initially released, but it did seem to be at the forefront of a genre telling non-hetero kids that their feelings and emotions were perfectly fine and not to feel like a freak for cultivating them. Of course, plenty of those kids were able to come to terms with that with the help of their friends and families without the help of a bunch of well-meaning movies, but it seemed during this era that characters every type of person could identify with had grown in importance, and efforts like this were a big reason for that.

It was not sheer tokenism, either, as filmmakers were aware recognising yourself on the screen was a good way of snaring an audience, though the matter of whether you would give films a try if you did not recognise yourself was a thornier proposition, as watching something when the only question in your mind was "Why am I not in this?" could be a double-edged sword. Especially when that question did not necessarily apply to minorities in any major society, and the danger of marginalising these minority stories was ever-present, placing them firmly in a ghetto of their own devising that were preaching to the choir, intentionally or otherwise.

Where did that leave Pariah? The tale of a black teen lesbian may have sounded like a box-ticking exercise on paper, but if you were to give it a try, no matter your race or orientation, then you may be pleasantly surprised as Oduye (who was in her thirties at the time!) proved sympathetic in creating a personality you genuinely felt for when things don't work out fairly for Alike. Indeed, there are so many obstacles in the path to her happiness that it could leave you hankering after a gay movie that did not see fit to put their protagonists through so much heartache, and that this was a cliché we might be better leaving behind, or anyway adapting into a fresher set of plot points, which Pariah did not, particularly.

That title, for a start, indicated Alike was going to be put through a tough time as she forged her own existence, so not only did she meet opposition from her parents, with her mother suddenly turning deeply religious when it transpires her daughter prefers girls to boys, or the crush she actually loses her virginity to having an awkward reaction the morning after, but we are made aware of the wider community making life difficult for lesbians who refuse to conform to the overarching norms. Little wonder Alike is so guarded and reluctant to be frank about who she is inside with everyone in her life - even Laura grows standoffish when our heroine begins to bloom from out of her shadow, despite encouraging her to do so at the earlier stages of the narrative. What you were offered was a movie that may have been done to death in the years since, and could do with more acceptance for Alike to give us (or those like her) hope, but considering the slender means it was made on was quite an accomplishment. Yet Moonlight rather stole its thunder in the grander scheme of things.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with these features:

2K digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New conversation between director Dee Rees and filmmaker and professor Michelle Parkerson
New cast reunion featuring Rees and actors Adepero Oduye, Pernell Walker, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell, and Aasha Davis, moderated by film scholar Jacqueline Stewart
New program on the making of the film, featuring Rees, cinematographer Bradford Young, production designer Inbal Weinberg, producer Nekisa Cooper, and editor Mako Kamitsuna, moderated by Stewart
New interview with film scholar Kara Keeling, author of Queer Times, Black Futures
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by critic Cassie da Costa.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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