Oscar Pariah: Adepero Oduye’s Our Best Actress…

Sunset Park’s Adepero Oduye should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. There, we said it. Her performance in Pariah—as a Fort Greene teenager navigating the difficult territory of coming out—is truly powerful, filled with grace and humor; it stays with you long after the lights come up. But you don’t have to take our word for it, just enjoy this adjective salad from the country’s foremost critics: “incandescent” (NY Times), “exceptional” (Village Voice), “unforgettable” (Rolling Stone), “luminous” (Washington Post).

It’s not surprising, of course, that Oduye was so convincing as a 17-year-old Brooklynite, considering she was born and raised in Sunset Park, one of seven children of Nigerian immigrants. She was also asked by Pariah writer-director Drew Rees to do some serious research, and found herself briefly immersed in gay Brooklyn subculture—as Rees tells it: “[Adepero] killed it. She was always willing to go there for me, without self-consciousness and without flinching. I had her and [co-star Pernell Walker] go to Dave & Buster’s in costume, to see what it feels like to be a masculine-identified woman in a straight environment. I had them go to a gay club so they could see how it feels to be a masculine-identified woman in a lesbian environment.”

This level of dedication came naturally to Oduye, who actually started out in pre-med at Cornell (following in her father’s footsteps); luckily for all of us, Oduye soon caught the acting bug, in no small part (as she told the Denver Post) thanks to coming across Robert Duvall in The Apostle on afternoon TV—the role for which he was nominated for an Oscar he would lose to Jack Nicholson. Oduye might not get her Oscar this year, but at least she’s in good company.

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