Writer/Director Dee Rees is an inordinately talented newcomer. If PARIAH is indicative of the quality of films she will create, then we are in for a new level of verismo cinema. She tackles a tough subject - same sex relationships among African American women - with such insight and care to details that her film jumps off the screen screaming as in the words of her heroine 'I'm not running - I'm choosing': lesbian girls are not God's mistake (to quote the mother figure) but instead have the courage to accept their difference and embrace their sexuality and still become successful members of society.
Alike/Lee (Adepero Oduye, a fine young actress who hails from Brooklyn by way of Nigeria, a graduate of Cornell University who has studied acting with Wynn Handman, Austin Pendleton, and Susan Batson) is a 17-year old sexually conflicted girl who lives in Brooklyn with her younger very bright sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) and her parents - police detective father Arthur (Charles Parnell) and conservative, overprotective, biased mother Audrey (Kim Wayans). Alike is an excellent student, a blossoming poet, and a lesbian: she maintains tow life styles complete with clothes changes so that she can be the 'daughter' at home and herself outside the home. Alike's best friend Laure (Pernell Walker) is her support system as Laure is comfortable about being out as a lesbian. Alike's home life is strained as her ever arguing parents disagree on many factors, on of them being Alike's need to appear like a man. Audrey arranges for Alike to become friends with Bina (Aasha Davis) who is the daughter of one of Audrey's friends, an encouragement that eventually leads to Alike's surprise first sexual experience with a girl who is just 'doing her own thing' - ie, not a lesbian. This deeply affects Alike, she delves more deeply into her poetry and graduates early because of her shining school record. At a point of no return she is confronted by her parents and the manner in which she makes her decision as to 'run or choose' provides the ending of the story.
The cast is uniformly strong and though Adepero Oduye makes a show-stopping debut, the other actors are equally superb. Bradford Young is the cinematographer who helps create the atmosphere. The dialogue is delivered in street language and is often covered with shouting and with multiple characters talking simultaneously: subtitles help here. But the genius of the film is in the concept and the courage and in the amazing gift for creating meaning cinema that comes across as the work of Dee Rees. She is a talent to watch.
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