Tag Archives: coming out

on finally seeing pariah

I’ve been looking forward to the film Pariah ever since I first saw the trailer at BAM this summer (and subsequently blogged about its uncannily consistent juxtaposition with the trailer for Gun Hill Road).  I even mentioned this state of heightened anticipation while seated near James Schamus at one of the several formal meals that we enjoyed together while he was at Carleton last term; when he overheard my comment, he interjected with something to the effect of “THIS FILM IS SO GOOD! YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE IT.”  Which, even coming from the guy who runs the company that produced the film (Focus Features), struck me as totally genuine and basically made me even more excited for the release of the film this past December (if that had been possible…).

Adepero Oduye rides the bus in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, as Alike in Pariah.

So: on Friday night, thanks to Carleton’s Metro Arts Access Fund and the efforts of Sarah Berlin (Sarah: you rock.), I was at long last able to see Pariah.  For those of you who don’t frequent Autostraddle (or similarly queer-ish online publications) and have therefore missed the ongoing hype about the film, the basic premise centers on the coming-of-age of Alike, a black lesbian teenager in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, who excels at school and expresses herself through poetry, wants to find a girlfriend ASAP, and isn’t exactly out to her parents.  Familial clashes ensue over time spent with her openly lesbian best friend, Laura, and her mother, played with surprising sobriety by Kim Wayans, decides that forcing her into acquaintance with a colleague’s daughter, Bina, will solve things.  So of course a sleepover with Bina turns out to be Alike’s first romantic counter.

Aasha Davis as Bina and Adepero Oduye as Alike.

Pariah is director Dee Rees’ first feature, an expansion of her earlier short film, and it preserves so much of what won it the Audience Choice Award in 2007 at the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival: the great cinematography, the very Brooklyn feel of the mise-en-scene, the poignancy and rawness of the performances, especially that of star Adepero Oduye, the honesty of the storytelling, undoubtedly the openness and necessity of the story content in this day and age.  But here’s my complaint: somehow, even expanded to 86 minutes, it still feels like a short film — the ending seems too soon, our glimpse into Alike’s coming of age too short, too easy.  Perhaps this is because the temporality of the film is so fluid, that the final scenes and Alike’s preparation to leave for California and college come so quickly, but it feels as if the conflicts that were driving the film remain less than fully examined, or left to remain unresolved.  And while this is frustrating to a viewer who wants more of any good queer cinema we can get, perhaps it also speaks to the lingering unspeakability of these questions of identity.  Even with films like Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh, streaming on Netflix NOW, run don’t walk to SEE THIS) and Pariah being released in 2011, queer cinema is still finding its voice, just like Alike and her poetry.  But it is finding it, and with that, finding wider audiences — and I firmly believe that we can only expect more truthful, powerful, beautiful work to ‘come out’, as it were, as the decade progresses.  Especially if I have anything to say about it.

coming out

This past weekend was the Out After Carleton reunion here, and one of the great annual events that is part of this is the Coming Out/Back party at The Cave, where alumni and current students take the stage to share stories and have the chance come out as anything — a hipster, someone with depression, the owner of a vast collection of Beanie Babies, a poet, and, oh yeah, any range of identifications within (or out of) the LGBTQA spectrum.  It was pretty awesome, and moving, and hilarious at times, but it got me thinking about the identities we have and build around our majors (for those of us who are college students, or were, or plan to be…).  I am a CAMS major (Cinema and Media Studies), and this means there is a canon of films that we are ‘supposed’ to have seen — the films that come up in casual CAMS conversations as necessary examples of genres or auteurs or ‘classics’ or historical periods or important technological and ideological and stylistic transitions and traditions within the last 115 or so years of THE CINEMA.  Films we should have studied, or at least have seen.  Necessarily, there are films that I haven’t had time to see in my young life thus far — and some (many?) or these seem to come under this big, shifting canonical umbrella.  I cringe when Metropolis gets brought up.  It makes me feel like a less-than CAMS major, remembering that I have yet to see Pulp Fiction.  But I am learning to live with these ‘gaps’ in my education, to recognize and accept that my filmic education is a work in progress (and that ‘The Canon’ is somewhat arbitrarily exclusive, when seen as a genre that is comprised entirely of what critics and academics and the Carleton College CAMSland has recognized as worthwhile).

So, in honor of last Friday, I want to finally come out as a proud CAMS major who has NOT SEEN ANY OF THE FOLLOWING MOVIES.  In no particular order, and of course not exhaustive, is a list of 111 movies I am planning to watch.  What should I add?  Is my concept of the canon strange?  Spot on?  I’m curious.  And of course, I’m slowly knocking these off — don’t judge me too harshly, and take me for what I am.  Acceptance is a process.

Pulp Fiction
The Matrix (any of them…)
The Godfather (any of them…)
8 1/2
The 400 Blows
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Modern Times
Raging Bull
Gone With the Wind
Schindler’s List
City Lights
The Graduate
On the Waterfront
All About Eve
A Clockwork Orange
Dr. Strangelove
Dr. Caligari
Duck Soup
Silence of the Lambs
Toy Story 3
Brokeback Mountain
Old Joy
Stand By Me
The Terminator
The Shawshank Redemption
Bonnie and Clyde
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Rebel Without a Cause
Taxi Driver
The Asphalt Jungle
American Graffitti
Blue Velvet
Brief Encounter
Days of Heaven
The French Connection
The Birds
Two or Three Things I Know About Her
Rules of the Game
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Great Dictator
A Fish Called Wanda
A Man for All Seasons
The Piano
Saturday Night Fever
When Harry Met Sally
Being John Malkovich
Boogie Nights
Bull Durham
The Earrings of Madame de…
Dirty Harry
Dr. Zhivago
Down By Law
No Country for Old Men
Empire of the Sun
Grand Illusion
Hoop Dreams
The Jazz Singer
The Big Lebowski
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
My Dinner with Andre
Mullholland Dr.
My Left Foot
Animal House
The Pianist
The Red Shoes
Say Anything…
La Strada
Requiem for a Dream
Wild Strawberries
The Year of Living Dangerously
Lost in Translation
Gangs of New York
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Bowling for Columbine
2001: A Space Odyssey
The Bicycle Thief
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Touch of Evil
La Dolce Vita
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Fanny and Alexander
The Shining
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Nanook of the North
Midnight Cowboy
Paris, Texas
Reservoir Dogs
Twelve Angry Men
Cleo from 5 to 7
Land Without Bread
Chronicle of a Summer
A History of Violence
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Night Moves
The Sting