Pariah is the 2011 feature length debut from writer and director Dee Rees. It’s an expansion of the 2007 short film she made by the same name. The film has been described by Rees as semi-autobiographical.
Pariah was produced by Spike Lee, which I was unaware of until after watching the film. As I watched it, the film did have a similar tone to some of Spike’s work. It was not then surprising to find that out. The movie stars Adepero Oduye in the lead role of Alike, a gifted student struggling with expressing her sexuality to her family. She has a close relationship with her father, played by Charles Parnell, who is a police officer suspected of cheating on her mother. Sahra Mellesse plays Sharonda, a religious and often strict disciplinarian mother and nurse who is in conflict with Alike.
Throughout the film, Alike is close friends with Laura (Pernell Walker) who dropped out of the same high school she is attending. Together they regularly visit a local lesbian nightclub and confide their struggles to each other. On the way to school and club, Alike packs clothes in a backpack to change in and out of what her mother finds appropriate. Eventually, Sharonda tells Alike she is going to be friends with Bina, played by Aasha Davis, the daughter of her coworker. After a time Alike develops feelings for Bina, which leads to a tumultuous relationship and eventually the film’s resolution.
The performances in Pariah are top notch. The relationships are both convincing and full of raw emotion. The scenes of Alike and her father playing basketball together are just one of the many examples. The characters are so interesting and endearing that the movie left me wanting more.
The film also has the unique ability to make you love and hate each character at different points in the film. Particularly the mother who so often is harassing Alike. Despite the harsh treatment, empathy is evoked in the fact that she is also facing an adulterous husband. Further, it is somewhat implied that she has a strained relationship with many of her co-workers.
One minor criticism I have is that occasionally the dialogue or interactions in the film feel unnatural. This is not unique to Pariah, almost every film has moments like this. It’s hard to describe accurately, but unnatural or un-organic is the best wording I can come up with.Pariah was an excellent film. Most of the films I choose to watch I anticipate I will enjoy, so it may be rare that I don’t recommend something I watch. This movie is on Netflix and I recommend everyone check it out.