Movie Review: “Pariah” (Written and Directed by Dee Rees)

It is tempting to call Pariah this year’s Precious, since both movies have three major things in common: great acting, great directing, and an enormous amount of critical acclaim. Pariah, however, exercises much more restraint than Precious, especially when it comes to cultural or thematic stereotypes. These stereotypes tend to develop in both films unfortunately, due to the fact they are set in worlds that much of the viewing audiences have never seen. Pariah’s strength lies is its ability to cover serious social issues with such deft that one does not consciously realize they are being referenced. The central focus steadily remains upon its main character, Alike (Adepero Oduye), and her dubious relationship with her mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans).

Kim Wayans as Audrey in ``Pariah.''

Pariah is more than a traditional movie. Pariah is a film - a visual tour-de-force that compellingly reveals the life and times of its characters while neatly unpackaging the nuances of real-life experiences shared by its viewing audience. The universality of its tale makes it a rare theatrical masterpiece. From tackling the stress of “coming out” to the covering-up of family secrets while living under the same roof, Pariah also shines a spotlight on society’s long battle with homelessness, of which an alarming percentage are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. According to the Center for American Progress: “approximately 40% of homeless youth are identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.)Within this narrative, Alike’s best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), drops out of school and is forced to leave the home of her mother who is critical of her life decisions. Laura’s future success cannot even forge a bond between the two – a fate Alike eventually faces. These are the open wounds that never heal.

Pariah could be considered the quintessential “coming-of-age” story for this generation. One’s search for identity, the desire for a parent’s approval, the bond between friends that is often stronger than that between family, social “double-consciousness,” and the public balancing act undertaken to maintain one’s sanity are hallmarks to almost every teenager’s life. The performances given by Adepero Oduye and Kim Wayans add exhilarating exclamation marks to these characters’ joyous and painful experiences.


To date, Dee Rees has been recognized as “Breakthrough Director” at the Gotham Independent Awards, and Adepero Oduye was nominated as “Best Female Lead” in competition for the John Cassavettes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards. With Oscar season forthcoming, expect many more accomplishments to be attached to the Pariah ensemble.

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