A movie about a Black teenage girl struggling with her identity, who suffers verbal abuse from her mother and struggles to fit in with her peers, is currently getting a strong Oscar buzz. No, the movie is not “Precious 2” it is “Pariah,” the story of a teenage lesbian coming to grips with her identity. Fortunately, “Pariah” differs with “Precious” in several key ways, making this offering a markedly better standout.
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“Precious” came off to many critics as “poverty porn”: The main character is illiterate, on welfare, has HIV and a down syndrome baby, is sexually abused by her father and verbally and physically abused by her mother.
“Alike,” on the other hand, is not defined by her sexuality or her struggles, and while her family is by no means rich, she is also not defined by poverty. Rather than having a litany of issues to focus on, “Alike’s main struggle is having her family come to grips with her sexuality, which she does as a heroin and not a victim.
What the films do have in common, though, is that the main characters both have abusive Mothers that are played by well-known comedians Monique and Kim Wayans. While Monique plays the role of the angry villain in “Precious,” Wayans’ character, through her humanity, is easier to relate to.
“Pariah” is also filled with real-life characters, while “Precious,” unfortunately, is fraught with stereotypes. Despite not being a woman or lesbian, I could easily relate to “Alike’s experiences of finding an identity, losing her virginity and having her heart broken. And even though Wayans’ character is homophobic, her love for her daughter is palpable.
Another similarity between the films is that both have become a favorite of critics. While “Precious” was widely praised by white critics yet bashed by African-American critics, “Pariah” has received praise from both groups. Will “Pariah” get the same Oscar treatment that “Precious” had? With the Academy’s history of failing to reward “authentic” African-American films, it seems unlikely. Hopefully, the Oscars will get it right on this one.