Pariah is a film IndiesUnchained has really been looking forward to, and for good reason. It’s not every day we get a film with an all black cast made by a black woman. Let alone a film that also chooses to tackle LGBTQ issues. This is definitely a film that could only be made independently (after all, it took George Lucas decades to get a film with an all black cast and director made… GEORGE LUCAS!). So, was Pariah everything we hoped for?
Pariah is a great debut by Dee Rees. In 2005 Rees wrote the screenplay for Pariah as she interned for Spike Lee. During her down time she’d write the script long form. She didn’t have the money to make the film so she turned the first act into an award winning short film that gained the attention of the Sundance Institute. She received an incredible opportunity to continue developing her screenplay. All the hard work really shows. The film says a lot in its concise 86 minutes. The plot is always moving forward while effortlessly drawing you in without overt manipulation.
The acting in this film is superb. I can’t believe this is Adepero Oduve’s first major role. Her performance is incredibly subtle and raw. Like Elisabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, she avoids over dramatic hysterics and simply is Alike. I was fully invested in her character and really cared about what was happening to her. All the supporting actors were very strong as well. Everyone worked together to create a world films don’t usually present.
I’ve heard a few people question if Pariah really says anything about race. My response? The film is a realistic depiction of a black families life in NYC. The film has a lot to say by simply depicting race in an honest and personal way. This is a huge deal because we work in an industry that consistently falls back on stereotypes and caricatures in order to portray someone who isn’t a white male. Pariah doesn’t tackle racial issues in an in your face, on the nose manner, and it is more powerful for it. Also, the LGBTQ issues are so specific and clearly personal they’re easier to notice.
I did have some problems, but they’re pretty nit picky. The film kind of felt like it was done by a young filmmaker. There were some deicisions I didn’t agree with. There were a few sound issues. Visually, I personally don’t love constant close-ups. That said, Pariah used them very well. But I do believe a more stabilized camera would have been very beneficial. I actually had problems with the handheld camera. “But Sean, you love handheld!” It’s true, but I love fluid handheld. I wish more wide angle lenses were used. Also, I wish a few scenes were more subtle. Sometimes the film became a little over the top intense. It stands out because there are other scenes that are way more powerful while being quieter.
But these tiny issues are easily off set by the raw emotion in this film. The film is incredibly powerful and tells a very important story typically ignored by mainstream filmmaking. In a Q and A the Producer of the film said a lot of financiers told them, “You’re film is black and gay. If it was one or the other we might be able to make it work.” Dee Rees is obviously a director who is going to fight to tell the stories she wants to tell. She’s interested in real stories that challenge us, make us reflect about the world we live in, and punch us in the gut. I just wish more films had the courage Pariah has.