Written and Directed by Dee Rees
Starring Adepero Aduye, Pernell Walker and Kim Wayans
Alike: I am not running. I am choosing.
Simply put, PARIAH is a very special film. By the very nature of its independent roots, it is itself an outsider. This small film will surely struggle to be heard and find its place amongst the marketplace. On these levels, the film, a feature version of the award-winning short of the same name, is something of a pariah itself, hoping for acceptance. While the impulse is usually to run from that which could be labelled as other, the opposite needs to happen here. Embrace PARIAH. It deserves all the love it can get.
In one of the film’s opening scenes, Alike (Adepero Aduye), a high-school student with a spectacular vernacular for poetry, takes the bus home from a night out at a local lesbian bar in Brooklyn, New York. She says goodnight to her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), who gets off a few stops before her, and proceeds to change out of her club wear on the bus. While it wouldn’t ordinarily be so strange for a teenager to hide the evidence of her likely unauthorized night out drinking, Alike is not covering her self up, as you might expect. No, Alike was already dressed pretty down to begin with, from her baggy jeans to her even baggier, plain white T-shirt, to her backwards ball cap. Alike isn’t worried her parents will know she was out. No, she’s afraid they will find out just where it was she went out.
Alike, as executed brilliantly with great sensitivity and strength by Aduye, who incidentally also played Alike in the short, is not only trying to fully realize her identity, but she is also desperately searching for the strength to inhabit her own skin. While she finds solace in words on the page, the angry words that are flung around the room regularly at home are making it impossible for Alike to grow. Her style of dress, which her mother (a frighteningly cold, Kim Wayans) vehemently denounces, is a constant topic of conversation. It is somehow easier to address how no daughter of hers will dress like a boy rather than talk about the very real possibility of her daughter’s lesbianism. The passion exchanged between both of these fine actresses is both intense and gut-wrenching.
PARIAH is a visceral experience unlike most in modern filmmaking. Writer/Director Dee Rees provides her audience with a truly honest perspective, unclouded by all bias and without any request for sympathy. Although somewhat crude at times, it has a timely quality that only further invites the viewer into the complicated streets of this particular Brooklyn borough. Rees keeps the action very present and reinforces the need for Alike to break out of the world that is now rapidly crashing down upon her. Carving out an identity for yourself is hard enough as it is but it can be exponentially harder when the direction you find yourself heading in is the one no one wants you to go in. PARIAH embodies this struggle perfectly and rightly beams with a beautiful sense of pride.