The Oscar nominations came out this week and a number of ethnic media outlets are pointing out the absence of a nod to the drama, Pariah (Focus Films), which was a huge success at the 2011 Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals. The movie was formerly an award-winning 2007 short film.
The movie, written and directed by Dee Rees, focuses on the life of a teenager girl who is trying to deal with her own sexuality. The movie, executive produced by Spike Lee, stars Kim Wayans, Charles Parnell, Sahra Mellesse and Adepero Oduye.
Oduye portrays Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay), a 17-year-old African-American woman who lives with her parents Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell) and younger sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. Alike is quietly but firmly embracing her identity as a lesbian. With the support of her best friend, out lesbian Laura (Pernell Walker), Alike is especially eager to find a girlfriend. At home, her parents’ marriage is strained and there is further tension in the household whenever Alike’s development becomes a topic of discussion. Wondering how much she can confide in her family, Alike strives to get through adolescence with grace and humor.
KIM WAYANS and ADEPERO ODUYE
I caught up with Adepero Oduye to discuss the film.
DD: You are a grown woman playing a teenager trying to come to grips with her lesbianism. What was your own experience growing up?
AO: People ask me about that all the time. I don’t know what I did. I remember being super awkward and trying to figure out the decision I wanted to make.
DD: Talk about getting the parent/daughter relationship just right in the movie.
AO: We didn’t have much rehearsal. We did some mock therapy sessions. That was the first day. I met the cast in the mock session, which was good. So much stuff came out.
DD: Were you a daddy’s girl like the character in the movie?
AO: I wouldn’t say that. I was the responsible one. I wasn’t a daddy’s girl. My sister was.
DD: Could you relate to your character at all?
AO: I related to the feeling of not feeling free and feeling like I didn’t belong.
DD: This movie was a short film first and now it’s a full length feature film. Was there any difficulty making the transition?
AO: When I did the short, I had no expectations. With the feature, I had to live up to the expectations. It was exciting to see how her story was expanded. I’ve been working on this character for three years. So, I felt more grounded.
DD: Talk about transforming yourself physically.
AO: What she wears determines the box she is in. It can transform you. It’s visceral. My body is going to be different wearing a princess shirt or when I throw on a hoodie and jeans.
DD: What have people been saying to you?
AO: It’s been overwhelming. People share their coming out stories. Some haven’t come out yet. But they tell me – a stranger. I don’t know how to put words to it. We’re all a lot more similar that we are different. It’s a journey to figure out who you want to be.
DD: Some people are calling this a gay movie.
AO: You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t look and say, ‘I know what that’s going to be about.’ It’s just about identity. On so many different levels you can relate to the story. It’s great to be a part of it.
DD: What’s up next for you?
AO: I’m reading a lot of scripts. I’ve assembled a lot of people who are in line with my vision.
DD: What is your vision?
AO: I just want to do movies with amazing, well-rounded stories with authentic characters. I want a body of work where I play diverse characters. Then, I’d die happy.
Pariah, which is MPAA-rated R (for sexual content and language), has a running time of 86 minutes. It is currently in theaters.