Review: Coming Out and Coming of Age in ‘Pariah’

“Pariah” has put a new twist on coming-of-age stories. Writer and director Dee Reese has done a fantastic job of telling the story of a young African American girl trying to find herself. 

Played by Adepero Oduye, Alike (pronounced ah-LEE-kay) is a 17-year-old girl living in Brooklyn with her parents, played by Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell, and younger sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse).

Alike struggles to embrace her sexual identity as a lesbian and find where she belongs in that world. While she’s forced to hide her sexuality from her family, Alike still has difficulty embracing her true self when she’s with her friends.

On top of her personal issues, Alike has to deal with fighting parents and a seemingly overbearing mother trying to separate her from her friends.

Guests at an advanced screening of the film were thrilled with the film. “As a member of the LBGT community and a person of color, I’m so happy that we’re able to see this struggle through the eyes of someone of color,” said Monica Dawson, 26.

The audience also praised the performances of newcomer Adepero Oduye and Kim Wayans. Wayans, who many know from her various characters on “In Living Color” and “In the House,” has generally taken on comedic roles in the past.

Wayans brought passion to her portrayal of Audrey as a mother in denial. While you might want to hate her character, you might even find yourself sympathizing with Audrey’s plight.

“I have never seen Kim Wayans in a role like this, and she killed it!” said Karen Tompkins, 54. “The actress who played Alike was amazing. She’s extremely talented.”

Oduye shows great emotion playing a young woman who knows exactly what she wants, but is ambivalent about how to pursue it. Her portrayal of Alike is so real that audiences can identify with her struggles with sexuality and just being a teenager.

The movie, which originally started out as a short for a class at New York University, is the first feature film from Reese.

Shot over 18 days, with a shoestring budget of half a million dollars, this film does not disappoint.

“Pariah” premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews. Cinematographer and Howard University alumnus Bradford Young won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance for the film.

Executive produced by Spike Lee, “Pariah” is being shown at select theaters, including the Landmark E-Street Cinema 8, 555 11th St. N.W. The Department of Radio, Television and Film at Howard University, which supported “Pariah” since its debut as a short, sponsored a screening and discussion at the theater that featured lead actress Adepero Oduye and producer Nekisa Cooper.