Pariah gives black lesbians a voice

Film delves into a subculture seldom shown in contemporary movies

Female alienation also informs Pariah, as the title of Dee Rees' coming-out drama suggests. Brooklyn high schooler Alike, or "Lee" (Adepero Oduye), knows she's gay and hangs out at lesbian clubs with her out-and-proud friend Laura (Pernell Walker). She balks at starting a relationship with another woman, though, despite Laura's encouragement to lose her virginity: "You need to pop that damn cherry, yo."

Lee maintains the pretense of being straight at home, going so far as to change outfits to and from school. Laura quips that she's going "incog-negro." While Lee and her father (Charles Parnell) pal around comfortably, her church-going mother (Kim Wayans) views Lee's "tomboy" qualities as a threat. Rees based her script partly on her own life and it's easy to believe that she either lived through most of the film's incidents, or knows people who did. Scenes at African-American lesbian strip clubs and poker sessions explore a lively subculture seldom shown in contemporary movies, and the naturalism compensates from the script's occasional clichés, such as Lee's verse as a budding poet.

Between the parent-daughter and marital tensions at home and the homophobic men on the street, Pariah builds to explosive confrontations. Fortunately, Rees presents more rounded characters than you find in the urban dramas of Tyler Perry or the more manipulative movies of Spike Lee. In Pariah, Lee comes across less as an outcast than a young woman torn by the demands of two separate communities.