Lisa Schwarzbaum
January 09, 2012 AT 05:00 AM EST

Pariah

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
86 minutes
Limited Release Date
12/28/11
performer
Adepero Oduye
distributor
Focus Features

We gave it an A

In her fearless, world-here-I-am! debut Pariah, writer-director Dee Rees demonstrates, with simplicity and verve, that there’s no substitute for authenticity. Drawing on autobiographical experience, Rees has created the unforgettable Alike — pronounced Ah-LEE-kay — a black teenage girl in Brooklyn struggling against tremendous opposition to come into her own identity as a lesbian. Played with bravado by charismatic newcomer Adepero Oduye, Alike is someone not easily forgotten.

By day, she’s a ”good” girl in girl clothes, squirming under the anxious urgings of her religious mother (Kim Wayans in a lovely, controlled performance), who’s a stickler for propriety, to be more ”feminine.” Alike’s father, played by Charles Parnell, is more compassionate but still willfully blind to his daughter’s true self. By night, abetted by her tougher, more experienced friend Laura (Pernell Walker), the virginal Alike — who really just pines for a nice girlfriend — dresses butch, calls herself Lee, and thrills to the secret freedom of underground girl clubs. Rees presents this vivid, hidden culture with raw honesty: There’s no mincing of words, deeds, or feelings among these believable young women, dancing and flirting to the beat of club music and enjoying their own sexuality — at least underground. A

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