Pariah (2011): Finally Some Accuracy in Lesbian Film

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I am not kidding when I say this movie made me sob like a child. I stayed strong they entire film until the end scene when lead character, Alike, played by Adepero Oduye, is reading an incredibly deep poem to her english teacher. The water works would not stop.

In my opinion, Pariah (2011) is extraordinary. I had not heard of it until it became an assignment for my film class. Having little knowledge of the film, all I knew what the movie was about an African-American teenager coming to terms with her sexuality. I’m going to be real honest with you guys. I thought Pariah was the name of the lead character. I had never heard the word before and I didn’t know that it meant “being an outcast” of some sort. When I started watching the film, the characters kept calling the lead girl Alike or Lee for short. I was so confused and did some research. I could not stop laughing once I found out what pariah really meant because got my two best friends to watch the film with me and I told them it was about a girl name Pariah. Lesson learned folks, know your vocabulary.

Well, like I said before, this film is about a 17-year-old girl, Alike who is incredibly intelligent. She is a fantastic writer and has a strong relationship with her english teacher. She is seen as an “outcast” because she doesn’t have many friends and the one friend she does have, Laura, is a high school drop out and is promiscuous with the ladies. Her own parents abandoned her because she is a Lesbian.

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Alike’s story is a little different. Her family is fairly well off and she lives with both of her parents and sister in a nice home in Brooklyn. Her parents have a horrible relationship and they fight often. Alike is pretty close with her dad but not close enough to be open about her sexuality. Alike is not close with her mother at all. Her mother is an extremely conservative christian and she can tell that Alike is hiding something from them. She forbids her to hang out with her best friend and claims she is “turning into a boy.” She even forces a new friend on her which seems to be a beautiful relationship but the friend ends up taking advantage of Alike which makes you want to scream at the T.V. I mean seriously, Alike cannot catch a break. Her mother even beats Alike when she finally tells them she is a lesbian and kicks her out of the house. Alike’s father knows the mother is nuts and tries to apologize and reach out to Alike but she shuts him down and you are just like “YES GIRL! YOU TELL HIM!”

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Alike’s finally has a saving grace at the end of the film which is amazing but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film.

Like I said before, this film is absolutely extraordinary. Not just because the story line is amazing but because it is giving a voice to all the young, African-American women out there who have no room in their lives to be their honest selves. “Because of its presence in theaters across the country, has been able to open up conversations about the tensions between blackness and sexuality on a much wider scale” (Keeling et al., 2015, p. 424). Homophobia is rampant in the African American community and you see some of that in the film. Young women already are the under dogs as it is and when you add the intersectionality of being, young, black, and gay, the odds of you being accepted by your community and family, and being able to live the life you want, become very slim. Sure there are plenty of lesbian films out there that bring LGBT+ visibility but 99% of them are from the white experience when the white experience is FAR from being the only experience. Director, Dee Rees, is amazing because she is giving an accurate portrayal of what it is like to be black and a lesbian because she too have that experience. She is an incredibly talented writer and director and she MUST come out with more films.

Rees made Alike complex to give an even deeper meaning to the film and gives more opportunity for women out their the ability to connect with the film. Alike’s gender expression is more on the masculine side which her mother fights the entire film. There is nothing wrong with the way Alike likes to dress but her mother is fighting it because she can’t fathom her daughter not being a girly girl. The way Alike dresses is what she is comfortable in and it feels right for her. “Regardless of sexual preference, everyone has a presentation of self she uses to convey messages to others” (Moore, 2006, p. 114). The way Alike likes to dress is part of her identity and self-expression.

This film is amazing and I hope everyday that it is reaching the audience it needs to.

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References:

Keeling, K., DeClue, J., Welbon, Y., Stewart, J., & Rastegar, R. (2015). Pariah and black independent cinema today: A roundtable discussion. p. 423-439. Duke University Press.

Moore, M. (2006). Lipstick or timberlands? Meanings of gender presentation in black lesbian communities. p. 113-139. The University of Chicago.

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