Powerful doesn’t even begin to describe this film. It starts off innocuously enough, with a girl, Alike (Oduye), wanting to lose her virginity. The first half passes in a haze of music, poetry and hormones; a teenager grappling with her sexuality or more accurately, with the reactions it elicits from her family. Every now and again a detail is dropped that subtly adds to the tension and shifts the film’s tone, showing just how precariously balanced her life is. By the end, Alike has to deal with the heartbreaking act of coming out that, even though expected, is still a kick in the gut.

Pariah’s an example of first-rate filmmaking where a conventional story still manages to completely engage you.

Oduye’s portrayal of Alike is fantastic. Alike’s not at the mercy of the people around her yet not immune to their opinions and abuse either. She’s at peace with herself and fully in control of her life no matter what fate may throw at her. The issue of the story isn’t whether or not she’s a lesbian; it’s about coming out to her family and the consequences it may entail. They know she’s gay but since she’s never spelt it out for them, they remain in denial praying that it’s just a phase while dancing around the topic and actively keeping her away from her best friend, Laura (Walker).

Her parents are played by Wayans, as her mum, and Parnell, as her dad. Both characters are deeply flawed yet as a testament to their acting skills, you can’t hate either of them. Both of them do deeply detestable, unforgiveable things, Wayans more so than Parnell, yet both the actors really bring out the humanity in their characters.

The director in general does a great job of highlighting homophobia as the real threat that it is as opposed to a caricature. She also manages to show the different kinds of motives behind homophobic behaviour; whether it’s people’s religious beliefs, feeling threatened by unconventional femininities or just being a passive witness to hateful behaviour and allowing it to pass unchallenged. And it’s this even handed handling of the characters that makes every single one of them so believable. Each character is given both the time and material to add to the story and become memorable.

Despite being an indie film, the details - such as the characters’ clothing choices that reveal a lot about the characters’ state of mind at that point in time - were plainly agonized over and it really pays off. The film both looks and sounds fantastic. It has an incredible soundtrack which is almost entirely female dominated. Heavy on the hip hop but with a fair helping of rock oriented tracks as well; it’s made up entirely of songs by artists that you’ve probably never heard of but it is truly awesome – this coming from a person who is generally not a fan of indie music.

Pariah’s a gem. It’s genuine and human in ways that are rare in fictional films and it touches you no matter your orientation. It may profile a niche concern but it deserves to be seen by as wide and diverse an audience as possible.