In her 2011 film, Pariah, director Dee Rees examines the events of a lesbian adolescent female named Alike's life as she grows up in Brooklyn with her family that refuses to acknowledge her sexuality. Rees uses an intimate film style to closely examine the film's characters and the relationships between them as they function in a society that still does not fully accept those that are gay. By analyzing Rees' use of cinematography and plot, there are certain conclusions to be made regarding the film's ability to accurately portray the often struggle-laden experience of teenager growing up, in addition to them being criticized and even socially rejected for being gay. From the start of the film, Alike's experience of growing up while also beginning the process of 'coming out' with her sexuality is demonstrated to be painstakingly discreet. This is shown in the scene in which Alike takes the bus home from the club and changes out of her tomboy-look into more effeminate clothing and puts on earrings, so as to prevent her mother from discovering her sexuality (Serwer 1). This film not only serves as an autobiographical entry of a young women entering into adulthood, but also a journey of acceptance by one's family and society in general. This film also embraces the "womanist" culture, in that the women being portrayed in the film support each other without the assistance of a man's strength and disregards 'girly' stereotypes (Reid 109). Alike serves as an example of a woman that rejects the traditional, Nuclear role of a dependent female that typically relies on the patriarchal power and knowledge of a male figure to extract her strength, which is particularly demonstrated on screen by her nearly completely absent father (Reid, 112). Rees examines several of the greatest enemies of adolescence, the parents, in that they not only reject Alike for being gay, but also perceive her sexuality as a reason to socially condemn her. Alike's parents' rejection of her throughout the film demonstrates the reoccurring phenomenon in films about growing up in which the parents and society in general do not accept the emerging individuality of teenagers (Reid, 115). For example, Alike's sexuality is dismissed as a phase by her parents, which serves as a blanket response to anything that the parents do not like the idea of and assume that their child will grow out of. This film also reveals a certain societal perspective on gay people, which is that they inadequate because of their sexuality, which results in them often keeping their sexuality discreet, just as Alike had (Serwer 1). However, Alike used others' lack of faith in her as a source of empowerment to finally come out with her sexuality and pursue her dreams confidently. The film Pariah examines the struggles faced by those growing up gay in a society that does not yet fully accept them for who they are, and especially not their sexuality. Rees uses a riveting yet realistic plot to share a story not commonly told with the audience in hopes to raise awareness about the negative side-effects of rejecting someone based on an element integral to their being, such their sexuality. This film serves as a type of empowerment for women of any sexuality in that it shows the remarkable strength of one that is almost completely rejected by her family, and yet finds the courage in herself to continue to follow her dreams of writing poetry. More importantly this film serves as a reminder that teenagers and their individual characteristics, including sexuality, should not be treated as anything less than something that is integral to their unique personality and what makes them who they are, whether others disagree with it or not.
Work Cited: Reid, Mark. Redefining Black Film. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993. Serwer, Andrew. "Film Review: "Pariah" and the Untold Stories in Black Cinema." Mother Jones (2011): 1. 28 Dec. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2017.
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