“Let’s be clear: this is the unfinished business of black people being free.” Sharon Lettman-Hicks, The New Black
What’s the truth about the black community’s stand on gay issues?
Directed by Yoruba Richen, The New Black is a documentary about gay civil rights and the African-American community, a community in which the church plays a strong role. States the film website, “The New Black takes viewers into the pews and onto the streets and provides a seat at the kitchen table as it tells the story of the historic fight to win marriage equality in Maryland and charts the evolution of this divisive issue within the black community.”
Martin Tsai, Los Angeles Times, explains how this film came about:
When California voters passed Prop. 8 in 2008 outlawing same-sex marriage, Robin Tyler — one-half of Los Angeles’ first legally married gay couple — and many others rushed to cast blame on African Americans. That indictment was the catalyst for the documentary ‘The New Black,’ a clear-eyed look at both sides of the same-sex marriage debate among blacks leading up to Maryland’s historic Question 6 referendum vote in 2012 — the first time same-sex marriage was approved via a statewide ballot.
Glenn Kenny, Rogerebert.com, sets up the film’s beginning:
This movie opens with a montage featuring a selection of African-Americans getting ready to leave their homes for the day. Radio and television audio feeds on the soundtrack place the time as Election Day, 2012. One hears President Obama’s voice, and Mitt Romney’s. The ordinary images connote ‘ordinary people’ while the urgently edited soundbites say ‘extraordinary times,’ maybe. As a few interviewees soon make clear, it’s also the place that’s important: Maryland. It was in this state, one-third of whose residents are African-American, that a state referendum on same-sex marriage was proposed and, on that election day, passed.
Ernest Hardy, Village Voice, summarizes what follows:
What emerges is an illuminating look at the ways race, specifically blackness, has been cynically portrayed by the mainstream media, rightwing politicians and religious leaders, and even some white queer activists.
Richen points out that the Mormon and Catholic churches were the real forces behind the push to thwart gay marriage — neither of those institutions having black powerbrokers in them. They’re the ones who have spent political capital to put anti-gay initiatives on ballots, have conceived and executed controversial anti-gay-marriage campaigns, have spent countless millions to secure their bigoted goals, and have flocked to polling booths to vote against gay marriage.
Watch the trailer below:
SOME OVERALL REVIEWS
Glenn Kenny, Rogerebert.com: “‘The New Black’ is an informative, measured, and never-not-engaging documentary about the emergence of LGBT consciousness in African-American communities across the U.S., and particularly communities with a strong church presence.”
Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter:
…The New Black offers insights into human nature and the notion of minority — and the truth that those long trampled upon do not necessarily rush to lift up others who are persecuted. Particularly penetrating are comments that point to the legacy of slavery: Facing the terrible reality of families torn apart, African Americans have long understood the importance of adapting with nonconformist family configurations, conventional church teachings notwithstanding.
Through formal interviews and fly-on-the-wall observation, Richen’s film delivers a valuable contribution to an ongoing national dialogue. It reveals gradations of LGBT acceptance within black American families and neighborhoods, conversations that don’t make the front page.
Ernest Hardy, Village Voice:
If there’s a flaw in Richen’s film, it’s her failure to dismantle, with data, lingering racist myths around California’s 2008 Proposition 8 ballot initiative, which for a time banned same-sex marriage. The Associated Press’s infamous exit polls initially claimed that 70 percent of the state’s African-American voters supported Prop. 8 (later adjusted to 59 percent). But what neither the pollsters (whose methods have been roundly denounced as shoddy) nor those who cited (and still cite) those figures have acknowledged is that black Californians don’t have the actual numbers to have affected the ballot outcome one way or the other.
Jeanette Catsoulis, New York Times:
[Richen]…balances crude filmmaking with sophisticated insights…
Despite a seeming bias toward marriage equality, she appears to be motivated by a sincere curiosity that’s as empathetic to the concerns of religious leaders as to the pain of a young black lesbian who’s finally coming out to her beloved foster mother.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE IT?
Try the Screenings page on the film’s site.