The 2011 american drama film by Dee Rees follows the story of an african-american 17 year old girl and her struggle to live and come out as a lesbian. Raised by a religious mother, a busy father and a childish sister, her painful story comes as no surprise regarding the general opinion towards the LGBT community. But Alike gets to be herself by the end.
Going home from the Club, Alike has to change from her boyish clothes before getting to her house where she knows her mother is expecting her. Audrey is a sensitive, religious woman who keeps pushing her daughter to be more feminine after she suspects something might be ”wrong” with her. Her husband, a too busy policeman, takes Alike’s side but doesn’t say much to defend her in front of her mother. He’s not sure himself if he wants to accept Alike’s sexual orientation. She never tells him directly and he never asks. Alike feels her father closer to her heart, she feel like she knows. And he most certainly does. Alike isn’t sure of herself either. She writes poetry to get stuff off her chest and doesn’t know how to actually handle girls being intimidated by them and held back by her virginity.
After her mother insists she spent time with her colleague’s daughter, Bina, Alike finds herself in an unexpected situation. Bina makes the first step by kissing her and Alike gets scared. She runs away as if this is too much for her and doesn’t know how to react. She isn’t comfortable in her own skin and she lacks experience. Eventually, the two spend the night together but the result is disappointing. While Alike starts feeling better about herself and confident about the whole story, Bina shuts her off, telling her it was just a one-time thing and warning her not to tell anyone about it. It’s a big slap on her face for Alike. Distancing herself from Laura and trying to ignore her family’s constant drama, she found relief in Bina who now betrayed her.
The movie also follows Laura’s story while she goes through a different kind of struggle. Her financial status is not great; she lives with her sister and works a shitty job while trying to learn for exams so she can make a better living. Without support from a mother or father, she only has her friends by her side. She’s also obviously showing feelings for Alike who isn’t capable of seeing past their relationship as friends. When Alike abandons her, she tries to get her back but she doesn’t seem welcome in Alike’s life, as her mother severely points out.
(Adepero Oduye & Aasha Davis as Alike & Bina)
(Pernell Walker & Adepero Oduye as Laura & Alike)
Alike is forced to come out to her parents in a dramatic moment. Hearing them fighting, she comes between them, ignoring her sister’s warnings. Losing her patience, tired of hiding who she is and living with a constant tension, she tells them. Her mother is in shock, while her father insists to tell her that was she said is a lie. Refusing to continue denying herself, her mother attacks her. After her mother made it clear she would never accept her for who she actually is, she’s forced to get away from the house, running back to Laura.
Her father visits her and shows his support, but he comes alone while her mother still refuses her existence. When Alike tries to talk to her mother, her bruises still showing, Audrey doesn’t express much and when being told ”I love you!” she doesn’t care to respond to her own child, so Alike is left repeating the words to herself as her mother walks away.
Living with a constant fear of being discovered by her mother made Alike fear herself. She knew what coming out would mean to her mother. She knew her father would still support her, but that he’d still choose not to hear it from her. The movie is a short glimpse through what being an LGBT teen means. The disappointment towards yourself is worse than the one the others might experience. It’s also what defines you, the attitude towards your own self which can be shattered by tiny little accidents like the ones Alike experiences.
(Adepero Oduye & Charles Parnell as Alike & Arthur)
But she is strong, she finds relief once she comes out. She finally sees herself free, a feeling expressed through her favorite medium – poetry. She leaves for an early college program and her father, sister and Laura are still there for her. The greater lesson is specifically summarized in her poem at the end of the film: ”I am not broken, I am free.”. Growing up while having to carry this weight on your shoulders is not easy, you have to accept yourself while at the same time constantly changing. And then, there comes the fight with the world around you. A fight which shouldn’t exist in this day and age.
We cannot deny the fact that a great hero is the one who finishes the mission feeling complete.