LGBT members of the African American community have long been citizens of this nation in name only. Despite the assurances of the words enshrined in our 14th amendment, and the 1964 civil rights act, LGBT African Americans have been without a voice for centuries. As a result of a lack of community resources, attention and support that sought to learn of and then address the needs of the members of the African American community who happen to also identify as LGBT, for many, our own voices were lost.
We were silenced by a visible majority in African American leadership circles that was predominantly based in conservative religious values. We were shut out by government policy that did not address the civil rights of our communities. We were encouraged to become invisible to ourselves by family, friends, co-workers and church members who sought to make us into an identity that was acceptable to them and approved by society. We were largely ignored by academics who either questioned the legitimacy of the community's strength in numbers, or who could not afford to risk their own careers in a culture that subjectively determines which modes, types and groups are worthy of research and publication.
The New Black challenges all traditional conventions that have served to limit the possibilities within the Black LGBT experience in the United States. The film is audacious in its personal biopics of issues facing Black LGBT communities, riveting in its story-telling and powerful in its political authenticity.
Nearly every scene in the documentary is equally balanced. Rarely, are documentaries (even) balanced in its coverage of varying sides of an issue. Yet, The New Black achieves balance. From echoes of how "traditional marriage is under assault" and "Jesus is our candidate" to "this is the unfinished business of Black people being free" and how the construct of dual oppression helps to frame Blacks' approach to the issue of LGBT rights -- The New Black covers every angle of the fight for marriage equality in the Black community.
To second-class citizenship and status by their local, state and federal governments, and their own African American communities, it's a marvel how well this documentary of LGBT members of the African American community demonstrates how our community has yet found within themselves the courage to continue to fight for the equality of rights of all persons. As the film shows, while many in the African American community leadership circles have attempted to wedge the issues of their LGBT brothers and sisters, others have stood on the side of equal opportunity, justice and equity.
The New Black is largely based on the interviews of leaders and volunteers in the movement to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland, and its precursor, Proposition 8, the movement that failed in California that coincided with the historic election of the nation's first Black president in 2008. (The impetus for the project being that many in the LGBT leadership community in California were quick to blame African Americans for the passage of Proposition 8). In both states, in the documentary, opponents and advocates of same sex marriage legalization at the ballot box are profiled. The Black church communities are given significant attention as a political driving force on both sides of the referendum in Maryland.
In poignant detail, the film's breadth regarding the depth and scope of the issue of same-sex marriage for same gender loving African Americans is evident. The diversity within the Black community and the cross-cutting issues of identity, faith, politics, family membership, and culture are all explored with a viewpoint that is objective and allows viewers to come to their own conclusions.
The New Black is apt for adoption in classrooms and living rooms. The documentary will be particularly attractive to academics, university administrators, and staff personnel. From a social and political science perspective, the film introduces viewers to the complex confluence of factors that impact the marriage equality debate, including demographics, styles and tactics of issue-based political campaigning and grassroots organizing, and high profile activism on behalf of GLBT rights in communities of color. For humanities scholars, the film captures the critical cultural narratives that trigger identity development and helps to frame how people of one community have unique experiences and competing visions of equality and justice.
I think the film would be useful for teachers and administrators of various disciplines and perspectives -- including but not limited to, Ethnic Studies, Critical Race Studies, Africana and African American Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Religious Studies, Sociology and Social Movements, Political Science, Public Policy, History, Urban and Regional Politics, Non-Profit Management and Leadership, Community Development and Social Change, to name a few.
I invite all to join in the conversation around the direction of the movement by viewing The New Black. It is inspiring. In it, you will experience the social, faith-based, and political intersections of identity that make up the 21st century Black voter.
In The New Black, director and producer Yoruba Richen, chronicles the lives of Black LGBT Americans as evidenced through personal biopics and their fight for membership recognition in their own African American community. For that reason alone, it's a must-see for everyone.
Available via California Newsreel in the coming weeks!!
Look for and schedule to tune in to the PBS broadcast in June 2014
Available for purchase now at: Transit Media
Ravi K. Perry, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Political Science
Mississippi State University
National Association for Ethnic Studies
Executive Council Member, At-Large
Co-Chair, the Bayard Rustin Best Paper in LGBT Politics Award Committee
National Conference of Black Political Scientists