Dee Rees took her semi-autobiographical 2007 short film Pariah" and (with the help of Spike Lee) expanded it to one of the strongest independent films released last year. The full-length version - also called "Pariah" - expands on Rees' story of a 17-year old Brooklyn girl coming out. Alike (Adepero Oduye) is searching for her sexual identity and is leaning towards gay, much to the dismay of her mother Audrey (Kim Wayans).
Audrey doesn't want Alike to hang out with her high school friend Laura (Pernell Walker), whose coming out has led to her being ostracized from her family; and mistakenly introduces Alike to a friend's daughter, Bina (Aasha Davis), who is less overt about her sexuality than Laura.
What happens, though, is no After School Special. Rees takes a tough look at coming out, at where homophobia can trump family and how important sexual identity is in personal development. "Pariah" is a gritty and incisive take on a familiar gay movie genre - the coming out film.
What makes it fresh is Rees striking visual style, augmented by Bradford Young's cinematography that makes the setting - the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn - come alive; and a resonant performance by newcomer Adepero Oduye. She gets under Alike's skin to capture her complicated and volatile emotions, taking her audience along on her journey to self-discovery.
Equally strong is Rees' depiction of a middle class African-American family in disarray. Wayans, especially, gives a powerful turn as a woman facing any number of uncomfortable truths about her marriage and daughter. No doubt some may compare Rees' film to another Sundance favorite - "Precious" - but "Pariah" is more familiar with its characters and situations.
The film - shot with hand-held cameras - looks terrific on the Blu-ray release. The images look sharp - especially the close-ups in which virtually every blemish can be seen; the colors vibrate, especially in the club scenes. The sound quality is also quite clear, replicates the theatrical experience with authenticity.
"Pariah" took Sundance by storm in 2011; but it somehow got lost in the shuffle of end-of-the-year films, only making it to key urban markets without much traction. The quality transfer to Blu-ray (and DVD) may prove key to the film's success in the long run. Hopefully. Put "Pariah" on your Netflix queue - it's not to be missed.