UIS screens Yoruba Richen’s ‘The New Black’

attachment.ashxOn Monday, October 6 the UIS Speakers Series and the LGBTQA Resource Office hosted a screening of Yoruba Richen’s documentary “The New Black.”  Afterwards both Richen and LGBTQA Resource Office Director Kerry Poynter held dialogue with students, as well as a reception where students could speak personally with either of them and discuss the film among themselves.

In a statement available on the film’s website, Richen explains the reason she began making the film, pointing out that on the same night President Obama was elected in 2008, Proposition 8, a bill which removed marriage equality from California, was passed.  Media outlets erroneously reported that an extraordinary number of African-Americans supported the bill, which lead to tension within the community that had just helped elect a liberal president.  Richen states, “Many of us who were members of both communities watched horrified as latent resentments, outright racism and homophobia bubbled to the top of the national political scene.”

The two hour film and subsequent dialogue centered mostly on predominately African-American churches’ view of the LGBTQ community and its impact on the 2012 Maryland vote for gay marriage equality.  Much of the conflict was based on the then popular notions that the African-American community was largely the reason why many popular votes for gay marriage equality failed to pass before the one covered in the film.

The film follows the journey of several characters through the events of the 2012 campaign in Maryland.  Richen consciously takes into account both sides of the debate, featuring supporters of gay marriage as well as its opponents.  Those supporting the legislation in the film include Sharon Lettman-Hicks, CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, as well as Karess Taylor-Hughes, a field organizer for the campaign featured in the film.  In contrast, Pastor Derek McCory, the President of the Maryland Family Alliance, serves to deliver the opposing viewpoints of the African-American churches.

Beyond illustrating homophobia and its impact on the film’s characters, Richen also explores potential motivations for media insinuations that the black community was at fault for the difficulty in passing marriage equality legislation.  The film’s website states “The film documents activists, families and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage and examines homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar-the black church and reveals the Christian right wing’s strategy of exploiting this phenomenon in order to pursue an anti-gay political agenda.”  The film explores campaign strategies on both sides, including backing of the Maryland churches from the National Organization of Marriage, a large organization which collects donations and funds anti-gay marriage campaigns across the nation.

Richen was greeted with a round of applause after the documentary ended.  Student Garrett McAlister said “I loved it.”  He continued, saying “it was really interesting because the way she did it was she paid equal attention to both sides of the issue”.  Kerry Poynter also thought it was a positive experience, and said “I definitely liked it”.

The presentation of the movie was quite timely, as on the same day the Supreme Court chose not to take the case of various appeals of gay marriage laws, which drastically increased the number of citizens to whom gay marriage is available.  Poynter mentioned before the screening that as of October 6, 30 states and roughly 60 percent of the population now live in areas where same-sex marriage is possible.

According to Yoruba Richen, the director of the film, the documentary was created with its relevance to the future in mind.  Richen stated “I still wanted to make a film that was timely- that would still be relevant after these things were decided.”  The difficulty of making a movie which was relevant added to the challenge of the documentary, according to Richen, who said “It’s always a challenge making a film: finding money, the characters, the story, there’s all that, but it’s also keeping up with the politics that were unfolding.”

The discourse after the film was also received positively by both students and the presenters.  Garrett McAlister said “I thought [Yoruba Richen] did a very good job of answering the questions and she is obviously very educated and passionate about this issue.”  Kerry Poynter also enjoyed the discussion portion, describing it as “really good dialogue”, and saying “I’m glad that some people took a little risk and tried to say what they were thinking and get it out there, that’s exactly what we need to do.”  The LGBTQA Resource Office also hosts a number of Safe Zone sessions throughout the year, which are another form of discussion within the community spanning a number of topical issues within the LGBTQ community.

The screening was the first event presented by the LGBTQA Resource Office in honor of Queertober.  The office is also presenting the Closet Door on the Quad, in honor of National Coming Out Day, this Thursday October 16.  Also this month are several of the aforementioned Safe Zone Sessions, which discuss in depth topics such as bisexuality, pansexuality, and transgender.  On October 30 the LGBTQA Resource Office will be hosting a Halloween Party at their weekly social, which is occurring on that Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.  Students are encouraged to wear “Out is In” shirts to these events, which are being given away for free in room 22 of the Student Life Building.