The narrative feature debut by future Oscar nominee Dee Rees (Mudbound) — expanded from an earlier, award-winning short — was a true revelation when it premiered at Sundance in 2011 and was selected for that year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It remains so nearly a decade later.
Adepero Oduye (12 Years a Slave, The Big Short) delivers a breakout performance as Alike, a 17-year-old Brooklynite whose growing attraction to women puts her in conflict with her church-going mother (Kim Wayans), although her police-officer father (Charles Parnell) appears more accepting. Rees tells Alike’s story from the inside out, capturing the nuance and complexity of her protagonist’s choices as Alike finds and claims her identity: what she wears, where she goes, and not only whom but also how she loves. Pariah won Rees the Cassavetes prize at the Independent Spirit Awards, the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Director, the NAACP Image Award for outstanding independent film, and three Black Film Critics Circle Awards including Best Director; while director of photography Bradford Young won Sundance’s Best Cinematography prize for his rich, attentive images, launching a promising career that has seen him shoot such diverse projects as Ava DuVernay’s Selma and When They See Us, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, and Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Content advisories: coarse language, sexual language