Pariah and Precious : What These Films Say About Us

So, I know what you're thinking - These films were released ions ago, why is she writing about ...

So, I know what you're thinking - These films were released ions ago, why is she writing about them? Everything that could be said about them probably has, and no one is really here for either of them anymore at this point. For a while now, I've been dissecting both films in my head; building and destroying mental compare and contrast charts. These thoughts have been centered primarily on how both have been received by Black Hollywood, and the messages such receptions send out about the views held in our community. 

After "Precious" garnered the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Best Drama at the Sundance Festival, Tyler Perry and Oprah immediately embraced the film and signed on as producers. The movie was released through Perry's Lions Gate Entertainment, becoming a box office success, and went on to win two Oscars (Mo'Nique, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay). If we were to take the success of "Precious" as a formula for independent black films, we would expect the same route for "Pariah" when it splashed onto the scene in 2011.

"Pariah," like "Precious" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival taking home the award for Excellence in Cinematography. It was heralded through out the Black blogosphere and Independent Film world as a gem, yet the only "big" names to be associated with it were Kim Wayans (she co-starred in the film) and Spike Lee (he was an executive producer).

Knowing the depths of Tyler Perry's Christian ideals, and his very public issues with Spike Lee, I knew that he would never utter a word about "Pariah." But, I was quite alarmed when many black celebrities did not come out in support of this film. What does it say when most of Black Hollywood and our community will stand behind a film like "Precious" and not one like "Pariah"?

I believe that "Pariah" as moving as it was, did not gain the momentous support that it deserved because it centered around a young lady coming into her own as a lesbian. As much as we may not like to admit it, many of us remain highly uncomfortable with anything that pertains to gays and lesbians. Most of us would rather sit through a depressing and gut-wrenching two hour film about a young girl trying to survive poverty, incest, teenage motherhood and abuse; than a cinematic experience about a young lady learning about life, love and self-acceptance.

I also do believe that "Precious" was much easier to swallow for many because it supported the memes that we are used to seeing of black women on the silver screen. Most successful black films usually contain  storylines where black women suffer from insurmountable obstacles, only to come through wholly triumphant at the end ( "The Color Purple" or What's Love Got To Do With It, anyone?). "Precious" follows this path completely, and in doing so takes most black movie-goers to a theme that they are familiar and comfortable with. "Pariah" is a coming-of-age tale -- something that Black Cinema has lacked for a very long time. The movie expresses the idea that is okay to be what society deems left of center, as long as that represents your true self. There are not many films with "us" that speak this philosophy as loudly as "Pariah".

At the end of the day, I am not judging anyone's personal taste in film and art. But when we're vocal for one film, and rather silent about another -- it speaks volumes as to what we deem acceptable. "Pariah" in its own way has been a major success, but I do believe had more people in the public and Black Hollywood stood in support of it, it could have been as big or even bigger than "Precious." But, until we start becoming more loving and accepting of women's narratives and lesbian/gay rights, such films will only receive limited achievements.

Valerie Jean-Charles is a 23 year old community servant and writer in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Political Science from Fordham University. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.

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