PARIAH's Team Remembers Their Coming of Age Stories

Coming of Age Story

PARIAH is a coming-out story that is also a coming-of-age tale, a much-honored narrative about how men and women learn to become themselves as adults. Melissa Anderson in the Village Voice wrote, “Like the best films about adolescence, from Truffaut's Antoine Doinel movies to So Yong Kim's In Between Days, PARIAH — about one lower-middle-class, African-American, lesbian teen — is a profoundly specific film centering on universal themes: discovering who and what you are drawn to, fighting for autonomy against arbitrary parental rules, or, in this case, tyranny.” Many young people and adults find Dee Rees moving story of Alike (Adepero Oduye) discovering who she is –– and then discovering the courage to be that person –– to be a powerful addition to the coming-of-age tradition. We decided to ask some of the people who made PARIAH what were the coming-of-age stories that inspired them when they were growing up, just like PARIAH is inspiring a whole new generation.

Pernell Walker on Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf

I was introduced to this play when I was 15 in junior high school. I was applying to different high schools, and wanted to go into the performing arts. During that period of my life I had a hard time in school, was a huge tomboy, and did not fit in. At times, I did not want to attend classes or school. I became emotionally closed off and depressed. I kept to myself did not have a way of really expressing myself to others and making a real connection with other peers. Ms. Taylor, a librarian at JHS 120 (and former opera singer) in the South Bronx introduced me to plays. She began to coach me and another student on her lunch time and sometimes prep period.  I saw the passion she had for the writing of this play. She encouraged me through coaching and advice. She took the time to open a different world for me with the arts. I began feeling excited about learning about this play. When I went to high school, I continued to study this play. I have done a number of productions of this play in different times of my life playing different characters/colors. What also struck me about this play is how empowering it was for me to learn about a play created by a woman of color and which had an all female cast who were each expressing their own human needs in unique, dynamic and ethnically diverse choreopoems. I am always grateful that  teacher took the time to open me up to the arts. I would really love to meet her one day and thank her.

Pernell Walker plays “Laura” in PARIAH.

Aasha Davis on To Sir With Love

The first time I remember a movie touching me on an emotional level was when I saw TO SIR WITH LOVE. I was about thirteen and my school had rented the film for movie night. Teen angst was settling in and I could very much relate to how misunderstood and ignored by adults the students in the film felt. This film also opened my eyes to a more "adult" point of view and how much discipline and caring it takes to turn a person's life around. I fell in love with Sidney Poitier's character "Sir" and how he was willing to put such an effort in to teaching these rowdy kids. I'm attracted to films where people who originally don't get along find a deep connection through their journey. It is still one of my favorite movies to this day. Icing on the cake, title song by LuLu :)

Aasha Davis plays “Bina” in PARIAH

Bradford Young on The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Though many would not consider this a coming of age story, I do. The book spans Malcolm's life from his youth in Nebraska and Michigan through his seedy dealings in New York and Massachusetts and ultimately to his life-changing, groundbreaking trip to Africa and Mecca.

As Ossie Davis would so boldly say, "Malcolm was our shining Black Prince". As an awkward, restless, bored kid growing up in Lousiville, Kentucky, The Autobiography of Malcolm X trumped The Iliad and The Odyssey. Malcolm's story was about adventure and discovery. It was dramatic and comedic but more importantly it was about deep spiritual transformation. It was about finding ones purpose in life no matter the cost. Through this book a nerdy kid learned to use his or her intellect to formulate revolution. The kid who felt unclear of his or her outer beauty discovered that black is beautiful and encompasses all the colors of the rainbow. Malcolm made me want to see the world. Malcolm gave me the courage to make culture the center point of all of my work.

Growing up there were several copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X lying around my house. Amongst my family, it wasn't a big deal to see someone reading it or referencing it in a conversation. With great curiosity and an unspoken sense of responsibility, I started reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X at age 13. This was the same year I learned my mother was HIV positive.  At that point in my life I could have chosen to follow many paths that would have made it impossible for me to be alive today. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a story about self preservation and the journey to find compassion for oneself and others... ideas that continue to sustain me to this day. I owe my life to this story.

Bradford Young won the Cinematography Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for his work on PARIAH.

Mako Kamitsuna on Kramer vs. Kramer

This film resonated me profoundly as a young girl who was experiencing at the time my parents' separation.  Needless to say, I was naturally able to relate to "Billy," the child of a father played by Dustin Hoffman. But what was remarkable about the film was that it enabled me to experience what adults go through in such painful chapter of their lives. I was able to identify with both father and mother's perspective at once and, subsequently, the film expanded and elevated my understanding of life beyond what was accessible/attainable to me. The film affected me so much that I went back to see it in theater seven (7!!) times. When I look back at my childhood and think of a film that had some bearing on my growth as a person, I think of Kramer vs. Kramer. The film so gracefully and gently opened up to me a new portal through which I was able to empathize with adult's perspective on love, loss, sacrifice and courage.

When I first saw Kramer vs. Kramer I must have been about 8.  My parents were separated at the time (eventually divorced). I was attending Hiroshima International School, a small American school.  As a child, however, I had a very difficult time learning English. Afraid to speak out (I wasn't fluent in English at all) and be misunderstood, I was becoming more and more introverted, cloistered, silenced. Thankfully I was able to draw and drawing pictures was my chosen method of communication. So when I first encountered a silver screen and saw a movie, I knew then that this is something I could do when I grow up.  Already at around age 6 or 7 I was dreaming of becoming a film director. Watching movies was my way of learning about the world bigger than my little hometown of Hiroshima; it was my source of inspiration.


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