'Pariah': Does the movie live up to its name?

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If you are looking for an interesting yet socially challenging movie to see during this holiday season, you may want to check out Pariah, which opens in theaters across the nation today.

Directed by Dee Rees, Pariah explores sexual expression among African-American youth. Indeed its name, “pariah,” directly captures the essence of its main character who often feels like an outsider due to her masculinity and sexual orientation.

Played by actress Adepero Oduye,, the main character is a 17-year-old Brooklyn teenager named Alike, who struggles with her identity as a lesbian. Silently but steadfastly seeking to embrace her sexual orientation, Alike seeks to find a girlfriend in a world that thwarts her pursuit.

Although Alike gains the support of her best friend Laura, she still faces great adversity and heartbreak since her parents are not in agreement with her lifestyle and notions. The main character’s mother is played by In Living Color alum Kim Wayans and her father is played by Charles Parnell.

Throughout the film, her mother’s traditional Christian values often limit her ability to love Alike wholeheartedly. Her mother does not like that Alike dresses and acts like a boy. As a result, her mother often forces her into changing into girly clothing.

With great belief in her own truth and purpose in life, Alike leads audiences on a journey through her adolescence that showcases her tenacity and her willingness to never be anything, but herself.

Many critics commend Oduye’s performance as a brave exploration of LGBT issues within the African-American community that encourages audiences to explore these issues.

For instance, Ramascreen described Pariah as courageous and impressive: ”Pariah does have themes about staying strong in the face of adversity, but just like Brokeback Mountain and Albert Nobbs, this film is also about being true to oneself and about acceptance. Pariah is a bold, courageous feature debut by writer/director Dee Rees and a noteworthy performance by lead actress Adepero Oduye…”

Yet many say the film leaves audiences with unanswered questions and does not deeply explore many topics.

As one critic, Cinesnatch, stated: “While it over-indulged in a broad range of emotions, it saved face with its sharp social commentary. However, along with the newly released The Help, one had to wonder if the best the marketplace had to offer in intelligent fare about black women is located at the lower rungs of society. It’s not that those films are unacceptable and not to be appreciated, but the ghettoization gets to be monotonous.”

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…

You will have to see the film for yourself to determine whether or not the it adds breadth to the image of black women in the collective, or maintains the limited status quo.