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Entries in Pariah (13)


Great Moment in Gay - Pariah

In Great Moments in Gay, Team TFE looks at our favorite queer scenes in the movies for Pride Month. Here's Kieran Scarlett on Pariah (2011)

Writing this piece this week, in the wake of tragedy is especially difficult. Thinking about all of the incredible, vital voices that make up Team Experience, as well as the readers who this blog touches on a daily basis, it's impossible not to think that a great number of us could have been (and have been) in places just like that Orlando night club. Safe spaces for marginalized people—queer people in this instance—are sacred, rare and often self-forged. This is especially true of safe spaces for queer people of color, who face an even greater burden of those added identity politics. Now more than ever, it is important to recognize that being queer and open remains a revolutionary act. It's a sad truth to intuit—something so innate and unchanging being a cause for notice and affirmation in the face of a world that is still struggling to understand. It's also beautiful to observe the strength of the queer community, who continue to push forward, forging those safe spaces, making room in spaces that are not yet totally safe, prospering, thriving and living.

Which brings us to Dee Rees' 2011 debut feature film Pariah. This coming-of-age tale charts a young, black lesbian Alike (a magnetic Adepero Oduye) as she struggles to find herself. in the face of a home and school life that are not entirely welcoming to her identity...

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Posterized: Movies About Young Black Girls

Not every movie has a white straight male protagonist. It just seems like that since that's Hollywood's default and also the preferred proxy of most (white straight male) auteurs.

But the times are finally a-changing. This weekend features the platform release of a mesmerizing new indie called The Fits -- please see it as soon as it opens near you. I was so proud to push for honoring it on my jury at the Nashville Film Festival. Fresh perspectives on the screen can be so exhilarating. That's especially true when the execution is this confident. Remember the debut director's name, Anna Rose Holmer, since we're hoping for more great movies to come.

In the meantime, let's take a trip back through other features with young black girls as the lead character. I haven't seen the first or the last movie on this list of nine below but the rest all fall somewhere on the spectrum of good to great. 

How many have you seen?

• Just Another Girl on the IRT (1992)
• Eve's Bayou (1997) - Really need to watch this again as previously earlier this week. It was the breakthrough role for Jurnee Smollett-Bell who went on to series regular gigs in Friday Night Lights, True Blood, and The Underground. 
• Our Song (2000) - When it comes to superstar Kerry Washington, it's important to remember that I saw her first. Articles from the early Aughts are no longer online but trust that I gave her a rave review when I saw this teeny tiny indie in theaters and was startled by her total naturalism onscreen.

• Precious (2009) - Best Picture Nominee at the Oscars, and right here.  
• Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
• Pariah (2011) - One of the best LGBT films of the decade

• Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) - Our #1 film of 2012, and also a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars
• Girlhood (2014) - terrific French film
• Annie (2014)

If you can think of other films with a child or teenage black girl as the lead character, please do share them so our list is more complete.


The 50 Greatest Films by Black Directors

Slate magazine has drawn up an interesting list of great black films, the twist being that they have to have been directed by a black person rather than about the black experience so out go Old Hollywood musicals like Carmen Jones or Cabin in the Sky or Oscar favorites like Sounder.  In the wake of recent conversations about Hollywood's power structures and overwhelming whiteness, Slate assembled a field of critics and filmmakers and scholars to produce the list.

Eve's Bayou

I need to get cracking on my gaps in knowledge from this list, especially because of the titles I've seen from this list several were great and the ones I didn't personally connect to were still interesting (Night Catches Us) or memorable (Eve's Bayou - I've been meaning to give that another shot now that I'm older). Unsurprisingly Spike Lee has the most titles with six. Curiously, though I've seen many Spike Lee joints (and tend to like them - I'd have included Chi-Raq on this list), I've only seen half of his titles that actually made it (gotta get to Mo' Better Blues, Crooklyn, and When the Levees Broke soon). The list is after the jump...

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Women's Pictures - Dee Rees's Pariah

Anne Marie returns after a brief break...

Over the course of this year, the purpose of our weekly "Women's Pictures" has been to explore the vast variety of female filmmakers. We've seen that women are not only present and working, but also highly diverse in their genre, style, and subject matter. Gender has often been a factor, but it has rarely been a focus. For the last month of the year, we're going to be watching films by two directors for whom gender, sexuality, and race are their focus: Dee Rees, and Celine Sciamma. Though both filmmakers have comparatively small filmographies, they have already established themselves as new, strong voices in contemporary cinema.

Dee Rees's 2011 film Pariah, based on the short of the same name, is an empathetic examination of a person usually invisible in cinema: the young black lesbian.


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Best Shot: "Pariah"

On this season of Hit Me With Your Best Shot we've looked at 80s fantasy (Ladyhawke), 60s zeitgeist drama (Bonnie & Clyde), 40s musical (Easter Parade), 30s gamechanger (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), 00s science fiction western (Serenity), and a 90s Asian masterpiece (Raise the Red Lantern). For this week's film, I chose something up to the minute, Dee Rees' Pariah (2011) just out on DVD. 

I found this film so moving late last year that I cursed Focus Features for letting it be crushed in the December glut where it had no business being in the first place. The coming out story of a shy Brooklyn lesbian was far too small and ethnic and gay and feminine an indie to hook Oscar voters so why make it compete for that attention? This selection was my excuse to promote the film as it enters its second and hopefully warmly embraced life for home viewing; it gets better!

I say that with a wink but without a trace of sarcasm. You see though I didn't have time to rewatch -- I've been struggling lately offblog. Apologies -- my most vivid memory of the film visually, and what I thought I might choose, is either of the bookending shots on the bus. I still remember the curiousity and sympathy I felt near the beginning when watching "Lee" travel home on the bus late at night after visiting a gay bar and the cathartic mix of peace and tears I experienced at the finale when light floods on to our humble heroine. The two shots are like beautifully symmetrical start and end points on her gorgeously executed character arc, a curved frame if you will for Adepero Oduye's breakout performance. Not that this character arc is ending. Lee's journey has only just begun.

I'm thrilled to discover that both of these shots were chosen by one of our 'Hit Me' participants. Since Pariah is as much about Alike trying to find her community as it is about her self-discovery, I think this is an ideal opportunity to say a genuine and loud THANK YOU to the participating blogs that make "Hit Me" such a rewarding communal series I hope you're always clicking and reading them for multiple views on all these fine films! 


  • FILM ACTUALLY looks at clothing as a public declaration of sexuality
  • ENCORE'S WORLD finds light from within
  • AWWW, THE MOVIES cocoons you in the moving poetry
  • SKETCHY DETAILS finds Rees use of color masterful and compares it to the work of Dario Argento (!)
  • CINESNATCH loves the performances but can't quite connect with the film
  • THE FILM'S THE THING is disappointed in the acclaimed indie but found Alike's double life reflections interesting. 
  • ANTAGONY & ECSTASY discusses the promise of Dee Rees and the bold recurring choices of artificial and "real" light...


...if all indie filmmakers thought about how to communicate visually as much as Rees has, American cinema would be in far better shape."

Next Wednesday on "Hit Me"The Exorcist (1973). Why don't you join in? I'll start early this week and make sure it happens. Nobody can ever believe that I've never seen it!


Best of Year Pt 2: Sweet 16 from Primordial Ooze to YA Novels

Part One: I Am Thirty Two Flavors 
Other pictures from 2011 that The Film Experience's year wouldn't have been complete without.

Part Two: Honorable Mentions
The year's best movies stretched all the way from the creation to the apocalypse and everywhen in between; time hardly seemed linear in 2011 but immeasurably flexible instead. The year's best films also twisted and shape-shifted in scale and meaning, wrapping big themes around human-sized packages.

THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick)
Fox Searchlight. May 27th. 
I really didn't know that our Burning Questions columnist Michael C felt so similarly about Terrence Malick's latest so two somewhat agnostic appreciations back-to-back were not intended here at The Film Experience. I greatly admire The Tree of Life's grandiose reach (the creation segment being my favorite chunk) and breathtaking physical beauty but often I felt like I was visiting an impenetrably random museum installation. Still... it's hard to shake the imagery and in a few key sequences -- children playing in poison clouds, brothers crying in tall grass, and especially in the different ways that Mrs O Brien (an ethereal Jessica Chastain) and Mr O'Brien (Brad Pitt's second great performance of the year... can we please give him an Oscar now, people?) touched and taught and looked at their children, the movie was fiercely moving.

Sony Pictures Classics. June 10th.
Let's not call it a comeback. Woody Allen has never gone away and his filmography runs the gamut between masterful and mediocre -- sometimes within the very same movie! What sets Midnight in Paris apart from the pack is a conceit so clever and insightful that it works both within the famed auteur's current limitations and as charming cover for them. It's okay that the present feels so tired and one note when hack screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) feels exactly this way about the life he's leading. It's definitely okay that the nostalgic past feels shallow and cartoony since nostalgia is fantasy, a very specific escapist (rear) projection. Quibbling is easy -- it's no Purple Rose of Cairo (an Allen masterwork treading somewhat similar ground) -- but why quibble when Corey Stoll is so funny as Hemingway, Adrien Brody is so amusing as Dali "Rhi-no-ce-ros" and Marion Cotillard's muse complicates the movie so beautifully by rejecting its message entirely and exiting the picture with so little fuss.

IFC. January 21st. 
This erotic melodrama, a remake of a Korean classic (which I have yet to see), is either the year's most elegantly trashy soap opera or its most biting political metaphor for the carnivorous and consequence-free behavior of the super wealthy and the impotent dramatics of the working poor. Maybe both. Either way it's uncomfortably steamy, beautifully filmed, and superly acted (South Korea is where it's at for actresses these days. Period.) It's also unusually entertaining once the bad behavior and catfights begin. I watched it twice in one week when I first saw it and if my schedule weren't so tight, I'd do so again right now.

PARIAH (Dee Rees)
Focus Features. December 28th. 
Two important new voices emerged in queer cinema this year, writer/directors Dee Rees and Andrew Haigh (his Weekend up later in the countdown). Both filmmakers previously directed one documentary-style feature so they weren't in the discussions of "best debuts" but what debuts these narrative features were! Coming out stories are a staple of gay cinema but few of them have carved out as much emotional nuance from raw feeling. Pariah has so much feeling for its characters that it occassional gets distracted with tangential subplots but better too much genuine feeling than not enough of it or the poorly manufactured variety. This story of a shy closeted lesbian high school student (Adepere Oduye, just wonderful) in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood just aches with emotion and, best of all, future possibility. You find yourself wondering about Alike's journey after the movie ends. The best characters, gay or otherwise, live beyond the end credits [Best LGBT characters of 2011]

SHAME (Steve McQueen)
Fox Searchlight. December 2nd. 
Brandon only has room for one thing in his life. His apartment and office are as barren as his emotional life. Michael Fassbender enters the picture on a naked loop as he travels from bed to phone to bathroom, one day being any day and every day empty but for bodily functions and the pursuit of the next fix. It's the first of many smart decisions that Steve McQueen, one of the most exciting new cinematic voices to emerge in the past decade (see also: Hunger), makes in this visually spare but daringly operatic take on addiction. Shame isn't perfect -- for every "New York New York" segment -- a telepathic conversation? a sung monologue? --  there's another moment that's too on the nose. The best thing about Shame is McQueen's voyeuristic addiction to the contact high of great actors. His camera stalks them ceaselessly but wisely never gets in their way, freezing in place to watch them work their inimitable magic.

YOUNG ADULT (Jason Reitman)
Paramount. December 9th
The first painful chortle of recognition I experienced watching Young Adult was the ease at which YA writer Mavis Gary (a brilliant Charlize Theron) became distracted from her work. A sentence or two, tops, was all she could manage before she was on to more pressing things like e-mail, Diet Coke, pet care (of sorts), and other absent-minded rituals. Sigh. I know the feeling on all counts. It was the first chortle of many. Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, who previously made Juno together, make another compelling case for continued partnership here in this diamond sharp perfectly condensed comedy about prolongued adolescence, untreated mental illness, and terrible cultural values (note how Mavis isn't the only one who worships her skin-deep beauty or encourages her self delusions). 

P.S. It took me half an hour to write that paragraph and it's not even a good one! Thankfully I did not hatch any plan as spectacularly ill conceived as "return to hometown. steal ex-boyfriend away from wife and infant daughter" during the fitful pauses. 

and now... the top ten.



Anne Helen Petersen has 5 crotchety excellent questions about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Bad Ass Digest a terrific piece on Margaret & #TeamMargaret, the time between Christmas & New Years and the space between Mess & Masterpiece
Daily Mail Christina Hendricks returning to the 1960s for Bomb a political period piece from sporadic director Sally Potter. The film is about two teens who get involved in the "Ban the Bomb" movement. The film will star Elle Fanning and Alice Englert. Englert is actually the daughter of the great filmmaker Jane Campion though most sites are missing this info since people keep spelling her last name wrong. 

Movie|Line interviews Dee Rees on her feature Pariah which is about to open at long last. Go see it!
Black Book interviews the incomparable Sandra Bernhard before her New Year's Eve shows.
Awards Daily Sasha looks back on box office versus Oscar and how drastically things have changed over the years from when Terms of Endearment could end the year at #2 just behind a Star Wars movie. We covered this topic in great detail a few years ago but it's always worth contemplating if crazy depressing. Basically what it boils down to is adults started watching pay cable and left the movie theaters and the industry got really good at making films exactly like television: i.e. your favorite series returns on ____ . Stay tuned!

Oh look! It's one of our first official stills from Soderbergh's stripper drama Magic Mike (2012) with all of the boys four of the boys accounted for: Joe Manganiello, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, and Mike's leading man Channing Tatum. 

top ten bonanza! 
Beiber fever caps the Top Grossing Documentaries of 2011 according to IndieWire -- It's interesting to note that the list contains only two of the movies from Oscar's 15-wide finalist listBuck and Bill Cunningham New York | Our friend Katey Rich delivers her top ten for Cinema Blend and boy has she stayed loyal to Meek's Cutoff  | Acid Cinema has a fun snarky preface and an individualistic top ten | Paste Magazine offers up a bizarre top 50 (Happythankyoumoreplease???? Really?) | Guy Lodge at In Contention doubles up for a top twenty with high marks for Weekend and Drive, of course, which he famously offered to have sex with at Cannes last summer |  Now Toronto's list reminds us that release dates differ greatly from country to country.