Dee Rees scores tremendously with her first feature Pariah, one of the buzzworthy films playing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. First developed as a short film a few years ago, it has now evolved into a commendable full-feature that will see big life down the road. An urban drama featuring newcomer Adepero Oduye, it is a heavy-handed story about a closeted lesbian black teenager attempting to live a double life with her parents.
Oduye plays the 17-year-old teenager, Alike, with both bravery and tentativeness. Watching her harboring this shameful secret, you can see the painful effort and work involved in keeping it under wraps from her strictly conservative parents. Scenes showing Alike with two sets of clothes convey her conflicted identity. The feminine blouses and dresses she starts out wearing is quickly changed out in the school restroom to her desired masculine wardrobe of jeans, tank top, and sports cap. Disapproval by her stern, prim mother to her butch friend doesn’t help to improve the situation.
Touching performances overall by Oduye and Pernell Walker as Alike’s club-hopping girlfriend, Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell as the faith-oriented parents make for a strong case of a film about family acceptance and tolerance. Anticipating a huge breakthrough for writer/director Dee Rees, Pariah is a worthy film that should open your heart and mind to social individuality and sexual identity.