Last week, on a biting Wednesday night, I sat in a plush, comfy seat at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center and saw a masterpiece called Pariah. Written and directed by Dee Rees, and produced by Nekisa Cooper. Pariah is a 2011 Official Sundance Film Festival Selection starring Kim Wayans (sister of Keenan, Damon, Marlon and six other Wayans brothers and sisters) as Audrey Freeman, Aasha Davis, Charles Parnell, Kim Sykes, Pernell Walker and Adepero Oduye as Alike Freeman. If Pariah were a play, Alike would be the protagonist and Audrey Freeman would be without question the antagonist. It is indeed a complex story but surprisingly told in a very simple and lyrical fashion. Dee Rees’ film deals with sexuality, religion, acceptance and unconditional love. It is a coming of age story intertwined with poetry. Oduye does a tremendous job as the beautiful and intelligent Alike Freeman. Her poems and her character speak calmly but with determination to tell the world and perhaps to reaffirm to herself who she is. One of the exciting elements about this movie is watching Alike’s acceptance of herself. Alike is not a confused seventeen year-old, questioning her sexuality. She knows the truth about herself and desires to be truly free. As we watch Pariah we learn that in the Freeman house almost no one feels or is free. Everyone seems to have a secret in that house and you get the sense that they wish their secret would be discovered, so that they could start living.
In Pariah, Kim Wayans’ character is a middle-aged, church-going, Bible reading woman trying her best to cope with the emotional distance growing between she and her husband, and her daughter, Alike. Audrey Freeman notices the not-so-subtle changes in her oldest daughter, and at first passes it off as the simple “tomboy” phase. She looks to church and her spouse to help her ‘bring back’ their daughter. Homosexuality has always been a taboo topic within the African-American community and is often not mentioned or dealt with in such a respectable and natural manner as seen in this film. This movie and its actors are authentic. It holds nothing back.
The opening scene and first song of the film are both shocking and intriguing. “What am I about to see?” I asked myself. “This is an R-rated movie Madafi. Relax.” Pariah is not a shy movie, to say the least. Like the characters and the cinematography, it is bold and courageous. Bradford Young is the brilliant cinematographer who captures scene after scene like no other. Through his lens he gives us unfiltered emotions and colors that stimulate our entire cranium. Mr. Young won the 2011 Sundance Film Festival’s Excellence in Cinematography Award in the US Dramatic Competition and is a graduate of Howard University. Dee Rees, Adepero Oduye, Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell and Bradford Young bring us right inside the Freeman abode. You can’t help but watch this movie and feel like you’re in the rooms or at the dining table with this family. The caliber of acting and directing in Pariah is to be respected, appreciated and without question, celebrated.
It was my first time seeing Adepero Oduye and her work. I was mesmerized by her acting and found myself looking for her in each scene. “Have I seen her before?” I continued to pose to myself. The movie was filmed in Brooklyn. “Is it possible that I ran into her at a party or just walking downtown?” Ms. Oduye is what they call in the business, “a natural”. Her acting is so impeccable; I had to remind myself throughout the movie that I was watching a film and not a documentary. Not too many actors can make us forget that they are acting. A graduate from Cornell University, Ms. Oduye was in the The Bluest Eye, at Hartford Stage, Eclipsed at the Yale Repertory Theatre, and in Bill T. Jones’ Fela! workshop. She’s also made guest appearances on television shows such as Law & Order and Louie. But I have the feeling that we’ll see much more of Adepero Oduye; in movies, on television and even Broadway.
Pariah is being shown at limited theatres, for a limited time. Don’t wait to see this film. It’s that rainbow we always wait to see. Kim Wayans is great in her first dramatic role, and Oduye is awesome. Things have changed dramatically and drastically in the film industry. Many movies are made to keep some actors working and ‘Box Office Hits’ aren’t what they used to be. Movie-goers now hope and pray that they get their money’s worth at the theatre. Pariah was worth every dollar, every step in the cold and certainly worth my time. It is a movie parents, young people, educators and the like should go see. What do you have to loose? If you don’t see this movie you’ll regret it. Yes, that’s right- I said it. You’ll be left out of the cool and interesting conversations that people will be having about this film for years to come… And you know you don’t want that to happen. Go ahead, skip work one afternoon, see it with friends or alone. Just go and see Pariah. It will change the way you feel about movies for the better.
By Madafi Pierre