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In the wrong hands, Pariah could have easily settled as the sum of its parts. Its premise — a poignant look at a black teenage lesbian’s life in Brooklyn — seems like the tidy sort of coming-of-age story that’s ubiquitous on the festival circuit. Under director Dee Rees’s careful eye, however, this 2011 film is anything but. Pariah is something rare and stirring, an emotionally affective story that beautifully explores the social standards and barriers within its own fractured culture. The film follows Alike (the splendid Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old high school student who can’t seem to fit in with traditional butch or femme crowds, frets about losing her virginity, and struggles to define herself. And that, ultimately, is the brilliance of Pariah. It turns an LGBT-friendly film into a story about identity. Your experience may not be as harrowing as Alike’s, but you still recognize its fundamental importance. You can still feel it. –CH
Prayers for Bobby
Based on the true-life story of Bobby Griffith, who committed suicide in 1983, Prayers for Bobby offers one of the most disturbing questions of any LGBT film – what can a mother do to cope with her son’s suicide when she is possibly to blame? This is the question viewers must ask of Mary Griffith (Sigourney Weaver) who, as a devout Christian, refuses to accept her son’s homosexuality. She does everything her religious conviction tells her to do to ”save” her son – and when it fails, and he tells her he wants to be gay, she rejects him. Following Bobby’s death, Mary tears herself apart as she struggles to deal with her son’s suicide, and the disbelief that he is destined for eternity in hell. Weaver turns in an incredible performance – the actress rises above the often evident constraints of the made-for-TV movie, and brings a level of compassion to a character it would be otherwise very easy to hate. She humanizes Griffith to the point where we see her not as a woman who rejected her son and contributed to his suicide, but instead a person who made a mistake based on religious conviction. It is this mistake that we watch Griffith atone for, and it is Weaver who makes that atonement such an emotionally draining, yet ultimately uplifting, experience. –RM
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