Pariah ★★★★★

Nothing makes me happier than when I can see pieces of myself in fictional characters. It makes me feel like I'm not just an island floating about in the world by myself, but that I'm a part of the big picture. For all intents and purposes, Pariah is a fairly typical coming-of-age independent drama. However, I can't think of another film that explores what it's like to be a part of this demographic, so even if it isn't original in terms of the film-making, it fills an important gap. I also can't think of another film that so closely mirrored the tug-of-war I went through with my parents as we all tried to come to terms with the fact that I was never going to be the woman they thought I would be.

Alike is a teenage girl living in New York. She's black, she's middle class, her parents are still together, and she's gay. She writes poetry and meets with her mentor at school to work on it. She's a straight-A student, but she doesn't flaunt it and no one treats her differently because of it. The film explores her struggle to assert her identity and the relationships that are formed and broken on her journey of self-discovery. Adepero Oduye is an incredibly talented actor. I can't wait to see what else she does, because that smile of hers could warm even the blackest of hearts.

There has never been another protagonist like Alike in the history of film (at least as far as I can tell), and that's because this is the very personal story of the writer/director Dee Rees. To create a film like this, that's so deeply personal and heartbreaking, requires a lot of effort and thick skin. Rees has said in multiple interviews that the experience of creating this film was cathartic and that the relationship with her own parents still hasn't fully healed from their tumultuous past. She tells this story with a healthy infusion of heart and sympathy. I wouldn't be surprised if this always remains Dee Rees' best film, but it won't prevent me from eagerly anticipating her new films because she has the potential to be an important voice in independent cinema. At the very least, I'll delight in the fact that there's someone who looks like me behind the camera.

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