Truth-seeking drama of a 17-year old lesbian who conceals her orientation from her parents. Pariah could be the first movie that opens in a strip club with scantily clad dancers that are there to strictly entertain female patrons. Adepero Oduye plays Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay), an African-American butch girl from Brooklyn just underway in experimenting with sex and feeling awkward with it. Her parents Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell) are loving but strict, enforcing church on Sundays and their own imposed dress code on their daughter even though she goes to public school. Alike changes in the girl’s restroom at school every day, which is the first sign she is concealing something. She doesn’t get picked on at school, and she’s rather well-liked by her teachers that see promise in her. This is an indie film based on what feels like real experience, and not just cribs from other movies.
All the verbal haranguing that Alike receives is from no less than mom at home. But Audrey does everything that she believes a good mom is supposed to do, like buy her girly blouses to make her daughter look more feminine. Mom tries to discourage Alike’s obvious outspoken lesbian friend Laura (Pernell Walker) from visiting their home by being… really rude. The father should say something or mentor his daughter better, methinks, for mom even wants dad to coach his daughter on how to attain better friends. And when their other daughter Sharonda (Sahra Mallesse) starts dating a respectable boy, they wonder why can’t Alike be like her sister.
Aside from commonplace subplots and supporting character colorizations, “Pariah” has three important developments: 1.) An awkward walk-in on dad while he’s on the phone sweet-talking to what sounds like a mistress. 2.) A sleepover at another girl’s house who is “experimenting” herself but is so unsure of her sexual feelings that she thinks she’s just “bi” and 3.) A domestic fight where mom confronts dad about all of his suspicious missing hours, culminating with Alike telling the truth about herself. It’s an instant where telling the truth sounds like a betrayal, but only in mom’s ears. There’s some wisdom in this story about how admitting who you are can only empower you.
84 Minutes. Rated R.
ROMANTIC DRAMA / GAY ORIENTATION / SPRING AWAKENING
Film Cousins: “Go Fish” (1994); “Show Me Love” (1998, Sweden); “My Summer of Love” (2005); “Saving Face” (2005).