I’m supposed to help Mila, aka Hubba Miles, recent Howard graduate and Brooklyn transplant, move to her new apartment. After the move, the plan is to go see the Black lesbian film everyone is talking about. So I’m just writing, strategizing, waiting on her call. It’s 6:30 p.m. and I realize, oh, Pariah’s not going to happen tonight. I’ll just pay to go see it later. Much later. (Shout out to Bklyn Boihood for hooking family up with complimentary tickets.) Then Ashley, one of my first friends here since moving this summer, calls.
“Where are you?” she asks. “Mila’s phone died.”
I am sitting in a dim lit, Bed-Stuy apartment with Spotify and a laptop. And they’re at the theater?! Shoot.
“Alright, I’m going to miss the previews but uh, I’ll be there,” I tell Ashley before hanging up the phone.
I get outside and of course it’s raining.
New York is wet with ugly ten-foot puddles at every curbside. I’m running down Macon Street. I left the house too fast to put on a belt so I look like a boy and my jeans are falling. Fuck it.
One block to Marcy Avenue, I’m out of breath and slowing down. Shit, now I have to pee.
I get to the subway and the A train is right there. Okay, okay. Everything’s cool.
“They didn’t even start the credits yet,” I tell myself.
I check the subway map for 42nd Street then sit with a smile.
I want to say I sit down thinking about pussy, but I only say stupid shit like that so people will read what I write. Maybe I’m thinking about what work I could be doing, the history of Pariah, how I first saw it as a short film and it left me in tears.
No. I don’t think that either.
The car isn’t crowded. There is a cute chick in front of me. She’s Spanish or something native and she’s reading a book.
Chill. Chill. Chill.
Jay Street – MetroTech. Borough Hall. Wherever. All of sudden this joint just stops. And I had a feeling it might delay, but was like no, not today.
I’m sure the opening credits are playing by this point.
Are they starting the engine again? I look around to the fifteen or so down coats for answers but no one is fazed. Old girl beside me has big gold earphones like she’s in a recording studio, with a solitaire game on her iPhone. “Spanish” is still reading her book. We get to Fulton Street and I’m like, shoot, maybe I can get off here and try the red line. Which way that go?
I hesitate, and in this stillness came my answer: Stay the course. “Spanish” reassures me, the hiccup is normal.
“I catch this train everyday,” she dismisses.
I trust her. I trust anyone that talks to me. Alright, cool. Dreadlock dude cosigns. I sit back down kind of biting my nails. Except I’m not, so I really just sit there.
We finally make it to 42nd, jerk after jerk.
It’s like 7:30 now and it’s still raining. I’m trying to run and text Ashley. And stop sweating small stuff.
Amidst all the raindrops big as day, I spot AMC Theatre. I cross the street, look both ways. Shit. Regal. Which theater do I go to?
“Excuse me. Excuse me.”
Short people are everywhere and it’s loud. Rain. Cabs. Fried halal meat. I go with Regal, pull up my pants as I dash and dodge through traffic. A guy at the door directs me.
I get the ticket and the usher is not trying to let me in. I’m not taking no for an answer.
“I’ll wait for the manager—whoever told you to tell me no, I want to talk to them,” I imitate the most polite version of my mother.
“Mila’s coming to get you,” Ashley texts.
Okay, I see her right over the lady’s head. She always wears a hat, and some big graphic shirt or sweater. She has this gummy bear bounce to her.
I am so grateful she’s there to get me. I almost forget she didn’t call.
“Hey, it’s crowded in there so you got to take off all your stuff,” Mila says. “And shit we got to go to the bathroom first. I got to pee.”
Oh, I have to pee too! I had completely forgotten. We pee. Sweet release. (We kind of come together.) We wash our hands. Let’s go. Let’s go.
“Take off your stuff,” she reminds me.
Okay. Okay. Got it.
I step on folks’ feet, and I don’t care. Ashley’s friend pressed her hair. It makes her look regular. I sit down.
It’s Pariah. I mean like, it’s Pariah! *Donnie Simpson voice.* Only the most hyped film of the year. And I’m here!
Alike, the central character, is introduced like an angel that sat by me in junior high school, whispered in my ear and said it’s okay that I liked hanging out with tomboys so much. Just as I get settled in my seat, she and her father are walking into the liquor store. Two dudes are hanging outside (why is the liquor store always the hang out spot?) and mutter something sly about the daughter. The father notices but ignores them as Alike steps back out, asking to drive the car. This is a story about a teenage girl after all. Her father says no. Beat. “You know you’re daddy’s girl right,” he tells her. She does not agree. The camera shot is close. Someone in the audience says she ugly. I ignore them. Everyone is ugly; it just depends on the day.
This is not your average film review. It can’t be.
So yes, Pariah has clichés and could use some character development. Both Black mothers presented in the story have a problem with their daughters’ “lifestyle.” Kim Wayans opts to pray for her daughter (though we have no insight into her piousness). Alike’s first sexual experience is with a cute femme girl, and just when we are rooting for her sexual awakening, oh, no, the femme is really experimenting. Not gay at all. Haven’t seen that before. When Alike magically graduates from high school early and heads to college, the fairytale ending felt like a cop out, but not as much as the poem moment with her and random red teacher. I saw Precious. Not all Black girls write poetry (except me, of course), and not all teachers save the damn day.
Despite missteps, Pariah is the best film of 2011, simply because the story is about me. The gay girl. The Black girl. The girl who wants to please her father. The girl who isn’t conventionally pretty. I pray it’s the first of many. I am grateful for the women, men, community and believers in the project and to producer Nekisa Cooper and writer/director Dee Rees for their vision and relentlessness.
Name another film with a Black lesbian protagonist that has generated funding, got picked up by a major film company, nationally distributed and covered in major press outlets across the country and internationally.
If you can’t, create one. Or at least go see the film.
– Jade Foster
Jade Foster is a Brooklyn-based writer. She reads some of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower everyday. Seriously. Follow Jade on Twitter @CereusArts.