Pariah (review)

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Pariah Adepero Oduye

Writer-director Dee Rees, in an assured feature debut, expands on her award-winning 2007 short of the same name to tell a story all but ignored in pop culture: the coming out of a lesbian. Even more unusual: Alike (pronounced Ah-lee-kay) hails from a conservative black family — her father (Charles Parnell) is a cop, her mother (Kim Wayans: Juwanna Mann) a devout churchgoer — from Brooklyn, where urban black culture enforces its own brand of conformity. Star Adepero Oduye is magnificent as a 17-year-old whose teenaged sullenness is more hard-earned than some can claim, the usual adversities of adolescence that will be recognized by us all compounded by the secret she harbors: she likes girls. Rees’s eye for how Alike maneuvers between her notion of who she is and whom everyone else wants and expects her to be is intense and poignant, as in the brief sequence that opens the film, as Alike, on a bus ride home from a night out at a lesbian nightclub, morphs from her preferred “butch” look to one more “girly” merely by removing her flannel shirt to reveal the sequined tee below and popping on a pair of dangly earrings. Aching with despair and, then, marvelously, a keen air of hope, the little gem resonates as a slice of teen life in which growing up isn’t only about sexual awakening but about deciding to take the reins of our own lives, even if it means defying our parents. For all the tough places it goes, Pariah is a lovely film about a young woman learning how to blossom into her own loveliness.

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