'Pariah' Recap: First Reactions to the Groundbreaking Film

GLAAD recently asked Pariah director Dee Rees some questions about the film and her own journey as an out African American lesbian. The critically acclaimed feature follows Alike (pronounced “ah-lee-kay”), a 17-year-old African American lesbian from Brooklyn, N.Y., as she learns to embrace her identity. Pariah opened in select theaters across the nation last week and has continued to garner much media attention especially in outlets geared toward the African American community. Here’s what various Black media outlets recently had to say.

Essence.com names Dee Rees one of the “25 Breakout Stars of 2011”: “Newcomer Dee Rees’ directorial debut 'Pariah' was funded through donations from friends for less than $500,000. The film earned stellar reviews and a Breakthrough Director award for [Rees] at the 21st annual Gotham Independent Film Awards. ‘Pariah’ is also nominated for two 2012 Independent Spirit Awards.”

BET.com entertainment editor Clay Cane writes, “The debut feature-length film from Dee Rees, takes what you might assume of a Black lesbian teenager in Brooklyn, cracks it in half, mixes it up and pours out a story that we have yet to see properly told on the big screen.” In an interview with Dee Rees, BET.com refers to Pariah as “a bold, powerful, cinematic feature film experience.” (“Q&A: Pariah Director Dee Rees”)

The Grio chatted with actresses Adepero Oduye and Kim Wayans about their on-screen transformation and roles: “Wayans, who America came to know and love as a cast member of the 1990's sketch comedy series In Living Color, discussed how she has struggled to get dramatic roles in Hollywood and also talked about an In Living Color reunion. ‘People just think of me as a comedian. The hardest hurdle was getting to show people what I could do,’ Wayans said.”

In another piece, “'Pariah': Does the movie live up to its name?” The Grio notes, “In a world in which black women are rarely depicted with rich diversity, at least Pariah represents a unique slice of black life that is not often humanly portrayed. Its authenticity inspires greater conversations on the essence of identity and being true to one's self.”

In “'Pariah': Small Film Exposes Big Truths,” The Root, examines how the coming-of-age coming-out drama highlights a segment of Black life not often seen on film:

In her middle-class Brooklyn, N.Y., home, Alike plays the dutiful daughter, trying her best to be a girlie girl, the kind of young lady of whom her uptight mother (the fabulous and almost unrecognizable Kim Wayans) approves. Outside her home, she plays the macho girl, all swagger and bluster, the kind of out-and-proud lesbian of whom her freewheeling friend Laura (Pernell Walker) approves.

But really, like all teenagers, she's just trying on personas for size. Hers is a life lived on the tightrope, navigating family expectations, high school cliques, a burgeoning sexuality and falling in love for the very first time.

The Root also takes a look at the twenty years of Black lesbian cinema that preceded Pariah and helped pave the way:

Clearly, the movie's positive critical reception owes much to the brilliant dramatic performances of newcomers Oduye and Pernell Walker, veterans Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans, Bradford Young's beautiful cinematography and Rees' subtle yet sophisticated depiction of Alike and her middle-class African-American family's coming to terms with her lesbian identity.

But Pariah is also indebted to a cadre of often overlooked but no less important documentaries and coming-out films released during the height of black lesbian filmmaking from 1991 to 1996 (“20 Years of Black Lesbian Cinema”).

In “Dee Rees: The Young, Black & Gifted Brainchild Behind the Movie ‘Pariah,’” All Hip Hop sits down with the film’s director to talk about the challenges and triumphs of creating Pariah. The online hip hop news source asked what obstacles Rees had to overcome as a female screenwriter and director with a female producer. Rees responds: “I think the obstacles that we overcame were obstacles that had to do with preconceptions. I think people had a lot of preconceptions about what this film was and about who we were as filmmakers. And I think we had to show that this story is universal. It’s about identity. Everybody can relate to it. It’s not just this niche thing that you think. As filmmakers, we can tell a range of stories.”

Watch the trailer for Pariah below. Now showing in in N.Y., L.A. and San Francisco, Pariah opens in San Diego, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Seattle on January 6! Find a listing of theaters here

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