In this deeply-layered and slowly unraveling story, we follow the journey to self of Alike (Adepero Oduye) as she grapples with balancing the exploration of her sexuality with concealing her true self from her conservative, disapproving mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans). Alike isn’t struggling with her sexuality; she knows she’s gay. And as the audience learns early on, so do her parents. The issue is that both her mother and her father, Arthur (Charles Parnell) are both in varying states of denial about their daughter’s sexuality, so she is forced to tiptoe around what everyone already knows.
Alike’s solace comes in the form of her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker), an open lesbian who takes Alike under her wing and answers her questions without judgement. When Audrey tries to drive a wedge in this friendship and enlist’s her co-worker’s daughter, Bina (Aasha Davis), Alike small thread of autonomy threatens to snap. On the road to independence and fulfillment, Alike finds unconditional love from her best friend and a surprising ally in her younger sister, Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse), all while navigating the dysfunction of her parents’ marriage and the juxtaposition of their feelings for her vs their feelings for one another.
Watching Oduye shine so brightly in such a nuanced character as Alike was even more satisfying than Wayans’ flawless dramatic turn as the tightly-wound, controlling Audrey. The dramatic, yet not overblown, ways in which the family’s interpersonal relationships within the home varied from those outside is both sad and beautiful to behold. Pariah drives home a point that many LGBTQIA films fail to: Gay people already know who they are. It’s everyone else who must learn to accept their truth.
I give this one 4.75 stars.