Pariah Movie Review

More stories from Lane Vineyard

Gardening around
May 4, 2015
Pariah Movie Review

Last week I watched (experienced) an excellent film, and felt the need to give it a review. The movie Pariah directed by Dee Rees was released in 2011. It reached critical acclaim, winning several awards including the Sundance Film Festival’s Excellence in Cinematography Award. This film really stood out to me, because it touched on some sensitive subjects that tend to be looked over in other films/television shows. I need to also define the word “pariah” for you, because the definition seems to be really important to the film.


Pariah: 1. A person without status

  1. A rejected member of society
  2. An outcast


The film tells the story of a young woman struggling with feuding parents, toxic relationships, the acceptance of a not-so-promising educational future, and the confusion that settles over her life after coming to terms with being a lesbian. With help from her supportive teacher and wise best friend, she is able to cope with her arduous situation and set out on her life’s journey.


Adepero Oduye (Steel Magnolias, 12 Years A Slave) plays Alike, a quiet, intelligent 17-year-old who has just begun to embrace her identity as a lesbian. Alike lives with her overbearing mother, dispassionate father and annoying younger sister in a quaint little home in Queens. Due to her family, particularly her mother, having more traditional values, Alike has to hide her sexuality in order to keep peace at home. Alike allows her mother to pick out feminine clothes for her, but typically changes into more comfortable, boyish clothes when she gets to school.


In a desperate attempt to change her daughter’s “lifestyle choices” and get her away from her openly gay friend Laura, Alike’s mother, played by Kim Wayans (In Living Color, In the House), forces Alike to become friends with a young woman she goes to church with. Alike is hesitant to become friends with the perky and popular Bina, played by Aasha Davis (Friday Night Lights), but changes her mind after discovering they have a lot more in common than she originally thought.


One thing that I really enjoyed about the movie was the obvious chemistry between Oduye and Davis. Although their characters were essentially foils to each other, they found friendship despite the differences. I feel like their unexpected closeness was meant to show its viewers that even if someone differs highly from you, that does not mean that you can’t form relationships with them.


Another aspect of the movie that I liked was how Alike’s gayness was not the only thing the movie focused on. When gay people are represented in media, their gayness is typically the only thing the viewers are able to learn about them; however, in Pariah, we learn about Alike’s appreciation for the arts, her skills in writing poetry, her favorite bands, her strengths and weaknesses, and many other aspects of her personality. As a gay person, I can really appreciate what this film does for the lgbtq+ community: depicting gays as normal people with interests, quirks and hobbies rather than just labeling them as the token gay character in every season of Degrassi. Although being queer is an extremely important part of our lives, it should not be our only defining characteristic. We actually have a lot of other things on outside of the closet. (I hope that you have at least snickered at one of the two clever jokes I made in this paragraph) \


I also want to praise the film’s positive message for kids who live with toxic parents. Alike’s home situation would appear to be nice at first glance: a pretty house, nice clothes, married parents, and quite a bit of money; however there are problems rooted deeper than the pretty rose bushes planted in the front yard. Alike’s father is obviously having an affair with another woman, and her mother is in denial.The couple constantly bicker with each other, keeping Alike and her younger sister up late at night.  Alike’s mother mentally and, in one scene physically, abuses her on a daily basis. I am so glad that the film touched on this because people do not realize that sometimes your parents are the ones that bring you down. The idea of disliking or even hating your parents is so frowned upon, because it’s said that you should naturally love and respect them no matter what; however, in some situations it may be impossible for a child to care for them. Parents who abuse, whether physically or mentally, or take advantage of their children in general, do not deserve their kids’ love and respect.


Pariah was one of those inspirational films that sort of just show up into your life without any kind of warning. While it possessed a unique sort of aesthetic appeal, it also sends out an important message to struggling teens. After sitting through the whole movie, your face all salty with tears, the final scene that ultimately drives the message through will bring a smile to your pathetically puffy face. “I’m not running,” Alike explains, “I’m choosing.” You don’t have to sit there and let someone control your happiness or oppress you with their hateful words. No matter who they are, a close friend, a significant other, or even a parent, do not be afraid to let them go if they are holding you back from living the way that you want to.


This film is pretty difficult to find, but if you do somehow come across it, I highly recommend you to give it a try. Before you watch it, be prepared to shed a few tears and don’t be afraid to laugh at the dark humor. Also make sure that you are watching it with an open mind; do not expect this movie to dig into the ridiculous stereotypes that are given to gay people by mass media. I promise you that this movie will make some sort of impact on you. Thank you so much for reading. Go watch the movie!