Review Date: 11-7-11
Release Date: 12-28-11
Runtime: 86 min
Costume Designer: Eniola Dawodu
Pariah is a movie about a high school aged girl coming to terms with her sexuality. Specifically, she comes to terms with being a lesbian in a family and culture that does not accept it. Costumes in this film are absolutely pivotal in telling her story, and the film itself is a fantastic jumping off point for a discussion about sexuality, clothing and self-expression.
In the beginning of the film, we meet Alike (pronounced Ah-LEE-keh, played exquisitely by Adepero Oduye) at an after-hours all-girls club, complete with strippers. Some of the women here are dressed in men’s clothing (a distinct hip-hop flavor, baggy menswear, baseball hats, diamond stud earrings, chains), while others are dressed more femininely, in shapely tops and swaying earrings.
Alike is one of those dressed in a style referred to in the film as “A-G”, according to urbandictionary.com, meaning “aggressive… a thug gay girl that dresses like a guy”. Alike and her friend Laura (Pernell Walker) are A-G teenagers, and Alike has been too afraid to come out to her family. On the bus ride home from the club, she begins to remove the layers of her clothing – an oversized polo shirt is removed to reveal a sequined girly-t-shirt that reads “Angel”. She removes her baseball hat and headscarf, smoothes her hair and puts in dainty hoop earrings. All of this, to maintain the appearance that she is straight, or at least straight-ish, so that her mother won’t have a cow when she arrives at home.
At this point in the film, Alike wears darker, more neutral colors. We see her arrive at school in one thing, and change into quite another in the girl’s bathroom. She goes from nondescript teenaged girl to A-G girl with a few pieces: men’s ribbed tank top, oversized graphic t-shirt, flat-brimmed baseball hat, headscarf. It’s amazing to see costumes in action like this in a film. It’s so exciting.
Things change when Alike meets Bina (Aasha Davis). Alike’s pushy, micro-managing, sanctimonious mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) sets Alike up with Bina, the daughter of her church friend, so that she will have some suitable “girlfriends” and so that she will hopefully stop hanging out with the other A-G girls she finds distasteful. Bina wears happy colors, fringed neck scarves, and appears by all outward cues to be happy and straight. Well, not so fast.
Bina and Alike start spending a lot of time together. Alike adopts Bina’s use of color, and her formerly hard, thuggish costumage morphs into something softer and more comfortable. By the time Bina and Alike have a sleepover, Alike is wearing a cheerful gold scarf and a poppy purple fitted t-shirt with a graphic of a woman’s face. It’s quite a shift from baggy Dickies shorts and an XL polo shirt.
In the end, Alike makes a break from her family and strikes off on her own. In the pivotal scene, she wears a pink hooded sweatshirt and a turquoise t-shirt. Her happy colors tell us that she is finally free.
It’s a very good movie, and Adapero Oduye is irresistible in this role. It’s wonderful to see a film about subject matter that hasn’t often been covered before or beaten to death. Charles Parnell playing Alike’s father Arthur is also a breath of fresh air as the NYPD detective chained by his marriage, hobbled by his own moral weakness, and a stalwart, unconditional champion of his daughter. I highly recommend the film for its story element, but I will call it a MUST-SEE for the costumes. It made me so happy to see how effectively these costumes conveyed the story and the sexual politics of the situation. Bravo, Bravo, Bravo. Please see it!!!