News

Revisiting Seminal LGBTQ Film Pariah

Journalist and critic Valerie Complex says this pioneering lesbian drama came into her life at a crucial time.

by | June 19, 2019 | Comments

My connection to Dee ReesPariah began one night at a Berlin bar. On New Year’s Eve 2009, I headed out for a drink in the German city, where I was stationed in the Air Force. As I settled in for the night and took a sip, I thought, “I am a lesbian.” It’s not something I had thought about in the weeks prior, but it felt right to say it then; and so over the super-loud music, I told my best friend that I was satisfied with coming out as a lesbian.

I rang in that new year with a new branch of identity, one that felt right but also terrifying because I had a lot of questions. How would I integrate myself into this community? Would I have to fight for acceptance within it? How do I find a date? These aren’t things I felt comfortable asking someone; I needed to experience it for myself. Unfortunately, I also had to deploy. I worked nights, gave up on a social life, and didn’t have time to process those questions or get close to any answers.

Instead I watched films, and one day someone suggested I check out Rees’ Pariah. I did some research, discovered what it was about, and knew this was something I needed to see.

Adepero Oduye as Alike, Pariah (Focus Features)

(Photo by Focus Features)

Pariah follows Alike (Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old Brooklynite who longs for an intimate connection with someone of the same sex. She knows she’s a lesbian and hasn’t come out to her parents; those around her suspect she may be gay based on her fashion choices and current friends, who are openly gay women. Observing this behavior, her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) encourages her to befriend Bina (Aasha Davis), in the hope she will rub off on her daughter: Bina is feminine, demure, goes to church – everything Audrey’s daughter is not.

Alike develops a crush on her new friend, and things look promising until Bina admits the feeling isn’t mutual. Meanwhile, tensions are rising at home. Audrey is incensed at the idea that one of her children is gay, while Alike’s father Arthur (Charles Parnell) believes his wife is overreacting. Tired of the drama, Alike leaves home early for college to start life anew. As she is about to board the bus to college, director Rees interposes the action with a shot of Alike reading her poetry. When she’s finally on the bus, glaring out of the window with a look of satisfaction, we hear the line “I am not running, I’m choosing.” It hits close to home.

PARIAH, Aasha Davis and Adepero Oduye, 2011 (Focus Features/ Everett Collection)

(Photo by Focus Features/ Everett Collection)

“I’m not running, I’m choosing” is a theme that ripples throughout the film, during which Alike is in a constant tug-of-war between family obligation and self-preservation. In the end, she chooses herself – not out of selfishness but for her own mental and spiritual wellbeing.

Unlike Alike, my family didn’t have issues with my coming out. They were very accepting, and many were not surprised. However, it’s still a heavy cross to bear when you exist at marginalized intersections. Claiming a sexual label outside of heterosexuality – on top of being Black and a woman in America – can mean you face physical abuse, verbal abuse, and sometimes death.

Alike and I have the same skin complexion, are of the same sexual orientation, we grew up in similar environments, and we made the bold choice to leave because it was the best choice for us and no one else. For me, leaving home to join the military was a decision without outside influences – the kind of major decision I hadn’t made until then. Seeing Pariah gave me confidence and confirmed that I made the right choice.

PARIAH, Adepero Oduye, 2011 (Focus Features/ Everett Collection)

Katie Shearer

The movie changed my life and my perspective on what it means to be happy with everything I am. When the film was released, it didn’t receive the notoriety it deserves. Now, many movie fans are discovering what a gem Pariah is. I would go so far as to say it paved the way for films like Moonlight, Night Comes On, and Rafiki. Rees has built a successful career. She followed Pariah with the HBO original film Bessie, starring Queen Latifah; Mudbound, her third feature, picked up four Oscar nominations, including for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Her next film is an adaptation of the Joan Didion novel, The Last Thing He Wanted.

I’m just here to remind movie fans that Pariah should always come up in conversation when discussing queer cinema game changers. It’s a movie that speaks to a demographic that rarely interests Hollywood studios – Black queer women and non-binary people. Rees took a cinematic risk and in doing so created a queer classic that holds up 10 years later – and will for decades to come.

Valerie Complex is a military veteran turned freelance movie journalist in love with all things related to cinema.


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

#1

Pariah (2011)
95%

#1
Adjusted Score: 99207%
Critics Consensus: Pulsing with authenticity and led by a stirring lead performance from Adepero Oduye, Pariah is a powerful coming out/coming-of-age film that signals the arrival of a fresh new talent in writer/director Dee Rees.
Synopsis: Though not yet out to her parents, a Brooklyn teenager (Adepero Oduye) embraces her identity as a lesbian and searches... [More]
Directed By: Dee Rees

Tag Cloud

satire gangster discovery Film crossover 24 frames all-time festival Captain marvel boxoffice superman NBC psycho dragons Travel Channel Logo 2018 archives HBO Max canceled Britbox Pixar Song of Ice and Fire what to watch El Rey space docuseries lord of the rings nbcuniversal Reality halloween tv indie superhero Trivia boxing APB WarnerMedia emmy awards Rock TV Pop TV 2017 Wes Anderson Sundance TV vampires obituary Marvel Television prank dexter 1990s book adaptation twilight name the review Polls and Games video posters historical drama Set visit TCA Winter 2020 Alien X-Men TCA 2017 women A24 Brie Larson facebook Esquire high school NBA Hallmark Christmas movies werewolf 2020 DGA Winners Opinion reviews Premiere Dates TCA tv talk Universal criterion USA Network Rocky SundanceTV technology Countdown worst green book award winner The Walking Dead Character Guide Lifetime A&E Film Festival Superheroe renewed TV shows Action GoT hispanic Exclusive Video RT History action-comedy TruTV unscripted cats President talk show Sony Pictures pirates of the caribbean mission: impossible documentary 45 cancelled television Winter TV Sci-Fi Baby Yoda 007 Turner golden globe awards Martial Arts Box Office Musical Amazon Mary Poppins Returns TV movies teaser Trophy Talk Star Trek Endgame 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards movies scorecard Food Network Creative Arts Emmys 99% Comics on TV Awards Musicals comedies Cartoon Network Ellie Kemper true crime Pirates reboot Toys DC Comics singing competition Star Wars dramedy war National Geographic New York Comic Con Lucasfilm FX The Academy IFC anime halloween french Holidays cinemax Comedy Central Valentine's Day BET Awards Marathons natural history Rom-Com social media adventure Television Academy Awards Tour richard e. Grant Elton John Sundance Now Apple TV Plus Avengers hist blockbuster Netflix black Video Games Photos binge Sneak Peek Quiz child's play police drama travel Podcast rt labs cancelled TV series 2015 PlayStation TCA Awards breaking bad blaxploitation trailers composers zero dark thirty GIFs nature spy thriller remakes wonder woman TV renewals Shudder jamie lee curtis IFC Films Tomatazos critic resources sequels hidden camera Writers Guild of America DirecTV Cannes VOD Oscars slasher Broadway serial killer ITV Adult Swim First Reviews GLAAD ABC Signature Walt Disney Pictures Comedy TCM football See It Skip It sitcom romantic comedy LGBT Lifetime Christmas movies ID BBC Apple revenge cancelled NYCC kids feel good rt labs critics edition streaming movies Extras fresh Epix indiana jones Tokyo Olympics Tubi spider-man period drama venice psychological thriller TLC Freeform target HBO Go 21st Century Fox doctor who Chilling Adventures of Sabrina aliens YouTube Red Cosplay MSNBC Kids & Family Chernobyl Netflix Christmas movies stand-up comedy strong female leads Bravo First Look The Walt Disney Company universal monsters sports dc transformers Acorn TV Television Critics Association political drama USA razzies Watching Series science fiction critics mutant Amazon Prime ABC james bond zombie Image Comics Country Apple TV+ cults laika festivals Nat Geo japan Legendary Spectrum Originals casting MTV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Nickelodeon Calendar Black History Month LGBTQ Mary Tyler Moore Mystery crime thriller television CW Seed screen actors guild Fox News joker theme song christmas movies Election PaleyFest Animation Fantasy parents rotten movies we love spanish language WGN Marvel Studios 2019 live action FXX BBC One medical drama 20th Century Fox documentaries Paramount Network Syfy Comic Book thriller spanish Year in Review mockumentary hollywood game show CBS All Access RT21 Teen video on demand batman versus stop motion Women's History Month sag awards Peacock OneApp TBS 2021 ESPN anthology south america witnail FX on Hulu MCU sequel rom-coms Lionsgate VH1 The Arrangement disaster king kong Mindy Kaling monster movies Pop italian blockbusters comic kong Vudu crime drama chucky Rocketman E3 king arthur supernatural new zealand Amazon Studios comics YouTube Premium comic books rt archives Pet Sematary Academy Awards Anna Paquin Classic Film mcc Disney Channel golden globes 90s harry potter Holiday E! San Diego Comic-Con The Witch animated telelvision elevated horror Western Biopics Emmys suspense die hard toy story children's TV cars Disney news Mudbound 71st Emmy Awards TIFF Best and Worst finale justice league Summer FOX TNT Music BAFTA game of thrones Stephen King new york VICE kaiju fast and furious concert cooking Tumblr Sundance marvel cinematic universe a nightmare on elm street Paramount Plus 93rd Oscars Horror Emmy Nominations stoner best Spring TV Infographic movie TV Land CMT Dark Horse Comics heist movie international Certified Fresh Hulu 73rd Emmy Awards cancelled TV shows Ovation aapi YA australia olympics Pride Month Showtime adaptation CBS CNN know your critic politics cops Hear Us Out streaming Thanksgiving History ratings quibi franchise comic book movie Christmas spinoff zombies basketball worst movies canceled TV shows screenings PBS hispanic heritage month classics based on movie romance godzilla BET Starz comic book movies scary movies adenture legend book Turner Classic Movies directors Binge Guide HBO Superheroes Amazon Prime Video nfl TV One dogs Nominations latino Paramount toronto SDCC Grammys Mary poppins Drama biopic Ghostbusters asian-american Heroines new star wars movies OWN Comic-Con@Home 2021 Marvel DC Universe 2016 marvel comics Arrowverse BBC America Hallmark 72 Emmy Awards miniseries YouTube Shondaland films diversity series Disney+ Disney Plus rotten Discovery Channel Masterpiece dark Columbia Pictures scene in color docudrama Trailer biography SXSW ViacomCBS Black Mirror Crackle American Society of Cinematographers Fall TV Spike spain Crunchyroll The CW Interview AMC The Purge robots Funimation DC streaming service deadpool Reality Competition jurassic park independent debate japanese free movies ABC Family Tarantino young adult Fox Searchlight popular slashers Schedule dceu crime Disney Plus Warner Bros. Pacific Islander Super Bowl cartoon saw Family 4/20 foreign royal family Disney streaming service comiccon Red Carpet ghosts