Take a look at the lineup at the Sundance Film Festival every year and it’s possible that one in three films you read about will be a coming-of-age story. It’s a venerable genre for a reason, and especially appealing to the kind of up-and-coming filmmakers who come to Sundance; if you’re just starting your career, a coming-of-age story is the one you probably know best to tell.
But few coming-of-age Sundance movies look, sound, or feel like pariah, ‘s 2011 movie Dee Rees based on her own short film, and closely based on her own life. The film follows New York teenager Alike (Adepero Oduye), who is in a lesbian club in the opening scene, but still isn’t out to see her classmates, her family, or almost anyone in her normal life. It’s a coming out story in some ways as Alike gets closer to sharing her full self with her parents (played by Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell), but in many ways it is a film about simply being seen. Working with cameraman Bradford Young, who would get an Oscar nomination for it? Arrival, Rees lingers on Alike in her quietest moments, capturing her longing and heartbreak, as well as freedom and joy. You don’t need to know how few movies there have been about black queer women, before or after, to feel how profound that is.
on this week Little golden men podcast that the hosts look back on pariah, a critical favorite throughout 2011 that was nevertheless not nominated for any Oscars. However, it was an important breakthrough for many involved. Oduye got a prominent shout-out from Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes the following year, and had roles in two consecutive Oscar nominees for Best Picture, 12 years slave and The big short. Rees received Emmy nominations for writing and directing for the TV biopic bessie, and was nominated for an Oscar in 2018 for her adapted screenplay for muddy. But the legacy of pariah remains strong, both as a model for how powerful a coming-of-age story can be, and how the Academy’s blind spots so often leave out a year’s best work.
The episode also features a discussion of this year’s honorary Oscar winners, the new Father of the Bride remake and our wide range of Emmy season interviews, including the great Shot List and Reunited franchises. Listen to the episode above and find Little golden men on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.