Alike is a 17-year-old African American girl who hangs out at clubs with her openly lesbian friend Laura. Alike slowly and firmly comes to terms with her own identity as a butch lesbian, comfortable in baggy clothes and male underwear. Her mother Audrey approves of neither her clothes nor her friendship with Laura. Harboring growing suspicions about Alike's sexuality, Audrey forces her to wear feminine clothing and tries to stem any influence from Laura by pushing Alike to instead make friends with Bina, a young girl from her church. Alike has a better relationship with her father Arthur, who is a police officer.
Alike begins to develop feelings for Bina, and starts spending more time with her than with Laura, much to Laura's annoyance. Arthur comes back late a few times from work, which angers Audrey and the two of them fight often. Arthur does not think much about the changes in Alike's life. Believing them to be just a phase, he is supportive of her, though he remains in denial about her sexual identity.
One night after going to see an alternative rock band, Alike and Bina are alone in Bina's room when Bina begins caressing and kissing Alike. Alike is at first hesitant, having had no prior experience with physical intimacy. However, she eventually responds and the two spend the night together. In the morning, Alike talks to Bina about where they want their relationship to go, but Bina says there is no relationship, as she is not "really gay" and only regarded their physical encounter as playful indulgence. Her only further interest in Alike seems to be her concern that Alike not tell anyone else about the two of them. Hurt and upset, Alike leaves and returns home and cries for hours.
During that time, Audrey and Arthur have an explosive fight about Alike. Despite her sister Sharonda's protests, Alike decides to intervene in the fight and she comes out to her parents. Disgusted, Audrey viciously attacks Alike while Arthur tries to restrain her. Alike flees to Laura's house where the two friends reconcile. Audrey then tries to forget that anything happened, which annoys the rest of her family. Arthur comes to meet with Alike, apologizes for Audrey's actions and requests that Alike come back home, offering half-hearted assurance that if she does, "things will be different". Alike says that she will not return home, but instead plans to move to California to begin college early. She assures her father that, "I'm not running; I'm choosing."
Before leaving, Alike makes an attempt to reconcile with her mother as well. However, her mother refuses to accept her and offers only that she will be praying for Alike. Arthur, Sharonda and Laura see Alike off on her journey west and the film ends with Alike reading a poem she wrote; its theme echoes her words to her father that she is not running, but choosing.Adepero Oduye as Alike
Aasha Davis as Bina, Alike’s love interest
Charles Parnell as Arthur, Alike’s father
Kim Wayans as Audrey, Alike’s mother
Pernell Walker as Laura, Alike’s best friend
Sahra Mellesse as Sharonda, Alike’s younger sister
The film is a feature-length expansion of writer/director Dee Rees’ award-winning 2007 short film Pariah. Spike Lee is one of the executive producers. Filming took place in and around New York City predominantly in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Pariah premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award. The film was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011.
Pariah has received overall positive critical acclaim, with the film having a 93% "Fresh" rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes based on 103 reviews. The website reported the critical consensus, "Pulsing with authenticity and led by a stirring lead performance from Adepero Oduye, Pariah is a powerful coming out/coming-of-age film that signals the arrival of a fresh new talent in writer/director Dee Rees."
In his New York Times article, film critic A.O. Scott wrote that to watch Adepero Oduye play Alike "is to experience the thrill of discovery." Scott continued by saying that "Pariah has a point to make, and a point of view to argue, but it also, above all, wants to illuminate an individual universe of meaning and emotion."
Adepero Oduye was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead.African-American Film Critics Association
Best Picture (runner-up)
Best Independent Film (Winner)
Best Breakthrough Performance, (Adepero Oduye) (Winner)
Black Reel Awards Best Picture (Nominated)
Best Director: Dee Rees, (Nominated)
Best Actress: Adepero Oduye, (Nominated)
Best Screenplay: Dee Rees, (Nominated)
Best Supporting Actress:
Kim Wayans, (Nominated)
Pernell Walker, (Nominated)
Best Ensemble, (Nominated)
Best Breakthrough Performance:
Kim Wayans, (Nominated)
Adepero Oduye, (Winner)
Black Film Critics Circle Best Picture (runner-up)
Best Director: (Dee Rees), Winner
Best Original Screenplay: (Dee Rees), Winner
Best Independent Film, Winner
Best Breakthrough Performance: (Adepero Oduye), Winner
Independent Spirit Awards
Best Female Lead, Adepero Oduye (Nominated)
44th NAACP Image Awards
Outstanding Independent Motion Picture (Winner)
Outstanding Motion Picture (Nominated)
Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture:
Adepero Oduye - "Pariah" (Nominated)
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture:
Charles Parnell - "Pariah" (Nominated)
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture:
Kim Wayans - "Pariah" (Nominated)