Finding Your Own Voice

Adepero Oduye in PARIAH

Destined to be one of the most talked about American indies of the year, PARIAH is the dramatic and intimate story of a teenage girl in Brooklyn who juggles conflicting identities and risks family and friendships in a search for sexual expression. The film is the feature debut of Dee Rees, a Nashville-born writer/director, who has obviously drawn on her own personal experience as a black lesbian to find the kernel of truth of the mix of exhilaration and sheer terror of a young girl’s coming-of-age that intersects with her need to come out. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a Best Cinematography prize for its expressive camerawork, and is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, to be followed by a theatrical release by Focus Features in Decemberl. Already being hailed as “this year’s PRECIOUS”, the film will certainly be a topic of conversation and a potential awards bonanza for its skillful cast.

The star to emerge here (as Gabourey Sidibey did in PRECIOUS) is Adepero Oduye, who plays Aleekai, a 17 year old girl who uneasily lives in two worlds….one is the middle class environs of her Brooklyn neighborhood where she lives with her religiously conservative parents; the other is the demi-monde of black lesbian dance clubs and cruising spots. The traditionally feminine and obedient daughter must co-exist with her butch lesbian persona, and scenes of the teenager literally transforming her dress and demeanor depending on the environment is quite telling (and very true). She must keep her sexual identity a secret because her distant father and intrusive mother can simply “not handle the truth”. However, no one with personal integrity can live such a split dual life, and with the help of a supportive teacher who encourages the girl’s literary talents, she comes to an understanding that in order to be free, she must be the most complete expression of her truest self.   Inevitably and dramatically, her two worlds eventually do collide and rather than simply tie up all the loose ends in some Hollywood-style happy ending, the film is honest about the fact that parents often reject their gay children. While the mother, a neurotic and smothering snob played quite effectively by Kim Wayans, is not of the same violent nature as Mo’Nique’s maternal monster in PRECIOUS, her emotional distance and lack of empathy for her daughter’s journey of discovery is jolting in its own right. Perhaps the mother (and the super macho father) will eventually come around and accept their daughter’s reality. However, the film stresses that it is with her own self-acceptance that the journey must begin. For more information on the film, visit: http://www.focusfeatures.com/pariah

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