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A Personal Movie Review: “Pariah”

By Shane’a Thomas

We all flock to the movies for a reason, a reason of course depending on its purpose.  For those who are waiting for the adrenaline in their veins to shoot up due to the sound of explosions and blast of burning fuel, action flicks are a good release. A day when the feeling is a lonely heart or being a dreamer spend their time with romantic films, and a good laugh can always be sought in comedies (whether the movie is good or bad).  Yet, the films that are so reflective of ourselves, that when watched through the windows of our soul, the exchange of energy is so complementary, you can’t tell if it were you or God that wrote the Bible to your life and added air.  That exchange can be so personal, it might be some that we have to watch in groups leaning on each other, or in the comfort of your own home, holding on to a lover, or yourself.

I love when there is a “must see” movie that happens in the Washington, DC community, particularly a premiere of an acclaimed black queer film (particularly within the community of women).  A few years ago it was “Family” by Faith Trimel, which brought droves of black women, gay men and all dimensions of allies came out to support the independent film at the 2009 Reel Affirmations Film Festival.  This year, it is “Pariah”.  To a sold-out crowd housed in the auditorium of one of the nation’s more costly and prestigious colleges, George Washington University, black queer women filled the seats to watch this craft by Dee Rees, with Spike Lee listed as one of the executive producers.  GWU is an interesting backdrop for people to take in this movie for a film set in a more urban setting than Pennsylvania Avenue uptown, more like the “other side” of the Anacostia Bridge.

The crowd is always one that I have never seen before, which baffles me and excites me every time, finding women  that do more than just the club, but then mad that I have no idea where to find them.  I always wondered that the people I don’t see, don’t feel that their experience is being told or it’s beyond club music and outside of their perspectives of what it means to be queer, black and a woman.  This has always fascinates me because living in Washington DC, a pretty large professional area where academics, arts, and music is always an evolving machine for queer black women, one or all of these characteristics affect you, your lovers, your job, your school experiences, and even where you shop or ride the metro.  To live in this city, means for you to find strategies to show the city you are worthy.  The city can’t see you at 2am.

To give a preview or give a synopsis of the film would spoil it, you will learn so much more than for me to tell you a series of words in order to lay a foundation for your thoughts during this experience: young, gifted, black, family, choosing, painful, and acceptance.  I find that when you see reviews for films that are specific to an experience of a “special” group of people, usually with ethnic or sexual difference to the societal standard, it is regular practice for the writer to take that specific experience and make it general for ALL to receive.  And for good reason, to make it more emotionally available for everyone to reach without work or effort, to ease the discomfort of watching someone’s life so unfamiliar to you on a big screen. To do that is an injustice to this experience.  To really get what you are supposed to get out of the film, you needed to be uncomfortable. I can sit here and connect the film to the hardship of being different, finding the strength to be yourself within yourself, which it definitely is, but unless you stick to the seven simple words I have given you, you have already watered down the film so make it go down your throat a little smoother. Not everyone likes their shot with a chaser.

What surprised me was the type of discomfort I went through as a queer black woman because I forgot how different indie films are from mainstream flicks.  There is always a line that indie pushes with stories that more mainstream movies locks itself into in order to keep EVERYONE entertained (and at times, not informed).  With “Everything Must Go” and “Lars and the Real Girl”, despite having bigger name stars in them, there are long pauses and awkward silences that go a second farther than usual, but past your conscious, everyone filling the space with emotion and invoking thought, creating a film that is differently interpreted by everyone.   Even showing a woman taking her right to choose and even how raw the tangle of love and hate for themselves and their lives and not being able to pull apart the two, “Revolutionary Road” for me left me speechless in the end.  So, I was ready to see young girls dancing into a club that they had snuck off to, but not expecting to remember how it feels to be in one of your first gay clubs and anxiety gets caught in your throat and the strength of nervousness holds you down when you attempt to first dance with a girl. The talk about sex was coming, but showing that sex between women is far from that of porn or a comedy and a wet straight’s man’s dream.  I expected aggression and tears, but got violence and radical forgiveness without permission. Forgiveness not given to a woman, but from the inside of the woman herself.  Taken. Its purpose was to tie those seven words together to cause you to feel the movie, whether the people on it were your reflection or not.

I first left the theater feeling like I was left without something, and that the film didn’t fill in all the gaps I would have liked it to.  But again, it was not about me, and not all endings are not happy or sad, but some things just end.  Life isn’t all about dramatics and pushing the envelope further in the wrong direction just to get a reaction. The ability to see your purpose, be still, and be able to choose your path in life as opposed to letting people and situations choose it for you takes the wisdom of trusting yourself.  “Lee” looks at her dad and says “I am not running, I am choosing”, as a way for him to know that she is in power and control of the situation, not because it was given to her, but because she is taking it.  A decision without revenge or motive, one out of love for herself and who she was learning to become.  As women who are queer and black, those are options we don’t take often because we feel powerless to do so. We just let life happen, we allow ourselves to allow discomfort and accept that’s how things are supposed to be for us all the time.  But as a reflection within myself and a testimony to the world, “Pariah” had shown myself and the people around me that I have a place in society too to carve my own space, and if you want to get across it, you can’t walk around it, you  have to ask me to let down the drawbridge.

“Pariah” opened in select theaters December 28th.

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