“The New Black”: Gay Civil Rights and Marriage Equality

“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 RichenThe 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.”

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:

SELECTED REVIEWS

Glenn KennyRogerebert.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.

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.

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