New on Blu-ray and DVD this week is Pariah, a film produced by Spike Lee and written and directed by newcomer Dee Rees. After a widely acclaimed showing at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and a limited theatrical release, the film is now available to audiences everywhere. The film has garnered widely positive reviews, and currently holds a 96 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it a must-have.
In her feature film debut, Rees weaves the story of 17-year old lesbian Alike “Lee” Freeman (played by Adepero Oduye, pictured), exploring topics beyond just sexuality in the coming-of-age drama. The title, Pariah, has been in place since the early development of the script, which originated as a graduate project for Rees while she took film classes under Lee at New York University. “Every character in the movie is themselves a pariah,” said Rees.
While the central character’s homosexuality is a central plot point, the film also documents the struggles of Alike’s family, growing up in middle class Brooklyn. Kim Wayans gives a powerful performance as Audrey, Alike’s lonely and conflicted mother, in a rare dramatic role. Though the majority of the cast is comprised of relatively unknown actors, they do a fine job filling out the ensemble of troubled characters that Rees seeks to portray.
One of the most appealing aspects of Pariah is that it can in fact appeal to any crowd. “We’re just trying to make the best possible film; there is no target audience,” said producer Nekisa Cooper. Those who don’t identify struggles of homosexuals or minorities are not alienated. Instead, the movie goes to lengths to completely explore its characters, rather than presenting black-and-white issues of discrimination, or stereotyped and cliché characters.
Originally produced as a short film in 2007, the feature length version of Pariah opened the 2011 Sundance Film Festival before being picked up by Focus Features, winning awards for its fantastic cinematography. After advising both Cooper and Rees for years during the film’s early production, Lee signed on as an executive producer.
Hopefully the home release can help the film garner the financial success to match its critically acclaim. Certainly, fans of black cinema should be among the first looking to support a fresh film from a new black writer and director in Rees. The Blu-ray is currently available at $19.99, while the DVD is $17.99. Pariah is also available through video services such as Netflix and Amazon.