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Pariah

Pariah: Powerful Coming-of-Age Drama

  • Aasha DavisAdepero Oduye...
  • Drama
  • Out now
  • Dee Rees
reviewed by
Yasmin Shehab
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Pariah: Powerful Coming-of-Age Drama

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.

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360 Tip

Meryl Streep gave a shout out to Pariah, and Oduye’s performance in particular, while accepting her golden globe for The Iron Lady.

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