“Pariah” is a short film directed by Dee Rees and set in a nightclub. The main characters in the film are black women who are marginalized by their community and the rest of the world. The film is an infrequently goofy, tender, yet candid examination of emerging sexual identity. In as much as the film exudes distinct features especially lighting, voiceover, narration and characters, it is necessary to explore the numerous viewpoints and compare them with scholarly research. The film’s uniqueness sets it apart from thug-life, drugs and violent nature of movies that characterized other black films. Other themes that come out are self-liberation, coming of age and searching for self- identity. The use of black characters in the film illustrates their independence especially concerning sexuality. The director wanted to prove that lesbianism does not originate from whites because it is a personal decision. However, Hill argued that same-sex relationships were rare among African-Americans because they were taboos. It is stated, “Black gays and lesbians have criticized these same sexual politics that deny their right to be fully accepted within churches, families, and other Black community organizations” (Collins 88). Consequently, few blacks ended up being gays compared to whites who were free to exploit their sexuality. The director uses Alike as the main character because she is an A student from stable family and aspires to be a poet. Though she knows she is a lesbian, she has never told her family member about it. Apart from this, Alike is yet to explore her sexuality like her friends Laura and Bina.
Mignon (126) defines feminism as a state of being weak while masculinity corresponds with dominance. Mignon employs such a theory when defending men and women who are gays. According to the author, a woman who is as strong as other men should be allowed to date women while weak men should be treated like women. This is true for Alike who has male features. She ends up dating girls instead of men. “Rather than a de-emphasis on femininity or masculinity, gender blenders combine specific aspects of both to create a unique look. They usually wear certain men’s clothing like pants or shoes, combined with something less masculine like a form-fitting shirt or a little makeup” (Mignon 125).
Alike introduces the audience to the lives of black lesbians. She demonstrates how they struggle to accept and understand their identity. It is important to note that unlike other scholars, who believed all blacks practiced immoral sexual behavior in Europe to earn a living; Rees uses Alike who comes from a stable family to prove that lesbianism is a state of mind rather than means of earning a living. Alike sexuality is not influenced by material gains, but rather a desire to find happiness and identity.
Rees assumption of lesbians differs with Esther Newton. She blames homosexuality on drug influence and wrong role models. According to her, people prefer to have wrong sexual orientation after aping other people or taking drugs. Furthermore, Newton claims that the physical state of being a man or a woman is not real. Consequently, it does not describe the identity of a person. Esther believes the state of being a man or a woman can be equated to customs worn by actors. According to her an individual can put on cloths of the opposite gender to play a role meant for that gender. She uses this assumption to defend women such as Alike who have male characteristics. She believes that such women should date fellow women because they have male tendencies inside them. She states, “my ‘outside’ appearance is feminine, but my essence ‘inside’ is masculine” (Newton 103).
Alike highlights difficult life experiences that sexual outcasts experience in a hostile society. Alike experiences hostility from the society that has struggled to maintain morality as the main ingredient that holds the society. Throughout the film, Alike struggles to find her space as a sexually unique person. However, she encounters rejection and oppression because of her race, class, sexuality and gender. Just as the title of the film that means rejection, Alike is rejected at her home because she is forced to hide her sexuality from her parents. She wonders whether she would eventually live her own life. Alike eventually experiences a dilemma because she is unable to choose between her best friend who is teaching her how to become a lesbian and her mother who wants her to be morally upright. Collins (105) affirms the argument by claiming that the society imprisons and persecutes gays. He further equates oppression of gays to racism that the black people face. Nonetheless, Alike has accepted lesbianism as part of her life because she teaches herself how to live such a life. The rest of the world who are represented by her religious mother and other anti-gays must learn to live with lesbians. It is important to note that Alike is not struggling to live as a lesbian. However, the world is struggling to live with her as a lesbian.
The setting of the film in a club is meant to associate lesbians with immoral and drunkards who have lost their morality. It is also used to associate clubs with places where the rich people go to spend their money to attain sexual satisfaction. This is evident in the money splashed on Alike as she strips in the club. The club is also a place where wayward children go to spend their time and have fun as they are forbidden from engaging in such acts in their homes. Their parents expect them to grow up as responsible and moral people who can become future parents. The ideology forces Alike’s mother to become strict because she does not allow her to keep wayward friends. The plot of the film revolves around Brooklyn that was a home for the blacks because the whites are hardly represented in the film. Consequently, the setting exposes the boundary that exists between whites and blacks.
“Pariah” is a crucial film for gay teens and their families. One of the viewpoints that is not captured is the fact that several parents in the real world have not understood that the world is changing. Consequently, their children are not what they seem to be. Parents should use the film to educate their children on sexuality and adolescence. The use of curse words and slang in the film should create awareness among parents that their children are not enhancing their linguistic abilities. It is also ironical that Alike who aspires to be a poet associates with people like Laura who use casual language that does not adhere to any grammatical rules.
“Pariah” is a film that exudes distinct features especially lighting, voiceover, narration and characters. However, exploring numerous viewpoints and comparing them with scholarly research enhances the audience’s understanding. The conflicting reactions to black sexuality enrich societal understanding.
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