Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Indiewire logo
Coming Attractions: 'Boy Meets Girl,' An Unlikely Twist On The Teen Rom-Com Coming Attractions: 'Boy Meets Girl,' An Unlikely Twist On The Teen Rom-Com John Waters Will Show a 'Sequel' to ‘Pink Flamingos’ in January -- Starring Kids John Waters Will Show a 'Sequel' to ‘Pink Flamingos’ in January -- Starring Kids 'Mommy' and Me: Why Xavier Dolan's Film Is This Writer's 'Boyhood' 'Mommy' and Me: Why Xavier Dolan's Film Is This Writer's 'Boyhood' Listen To The Entire Soundtrack For Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy' Listen To The Entire Soundtrack For Xavier Dolan's 'Mommy' The 10 Best Tina Belcher Moments On 'Bob's Burgers' The 10 Best Tina Belcher Moments On 'Bob's Burgers' Let These Wise Words Meryl Streep Lives By Usher You Into September Let These Wise Words Meryl Streep Lives By Usher You Into September The 5 Best Gay and Lesbian Romantic Comedies On Netflix The 5 Best Gay and Lesbian Romantic Comedies On Netflix Why 'The 10 Year Plan' Is One Movie You Should NOT See at Outfest Why 'The 10 Year Plan' Is One Movie You Should NOT See at Outfest 14 Films On Netflix To Watch At Your 2014 Pride Party 14 Films On Netflix To Watch At Your 2014 Pride Party Reader's Poll: The 25 Most Important LGBT Television Series Reader's Poll: The 25 Most Important LGBT Television Series 'Game of Thrones,' Sex and HBO: Where Did It Go Wrong For TV's Sexual Pioneers? 'Game of Thrones,' Sex and HBO: Where Did It Go Wrong For TV's Sexual Pioneers? On Zac Efron, Homoeroticism and Gay Pandering: How 'Neighbors' Is The Gayest Studio Movie of the Summer On Zac Efron, Homoeroticism and Gay Pandering: How 'Neighbors' Is The Gayest Studio Movie of the Summer EXCLUSIVE: Actor Daniel Franzese Writes a Touching Coming Out Letter To His Iconic 'Mean Girls' Character Damian EXCLUSIVE: Actor Daniel Franzese Writes a Touching Coming Out Letter To His Iconic 'Mean Girls' Character Damian Amber Heard and Johnny Depp Are Officially Engaged But We Need To Talk About Bisexuality Amber Heard and Johnny Depp Are Officially Engaged But We Need To Talk About Bisexuality Read Sally Field's Impassioned Open Letter About Her Gay Son Read Sally Field's Impassioned Open Letter About Her Gay Son Watch: Travis Mathews' Sexy, Very NSFW Doc 'In Their Room: Berlin' Is Now Streaming Online Watch: Travis Mathews' Sexy, Very NSFW Doc 'In Their Room: Berlin' Is Now Streaming Online Why Sexy Gay Love Story 'Free Fall' Is Not Just a German 'Brokeback Mountain' Why Sexy Gay Love Story 'Free Fall' Is Not Just a German 'Brokeback Mountain' Watch a Teenage Boy Find a Stack of Gay Porn In Adam Baran's Adorable Short Film 'Jackpot' Watch a Teenage Boy Find a Stack of Gay Porn In Adam Baran's Adorable Short Film 'Jackpot' Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Six: The Top 10!) Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Six: The Top 10!) Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Five) Ranking the House Down:
 The Queens of RuPaul’s Drag Race, from Worst to Best (Part Five)

Considering How Gay Isn't Simply 'The New Black' in Yoruba Richen's Imperative New Doc

Photo of Peter Knegt By Peter Knegt | /Bent February 12, 2014 at 9:48PM

As the LGBT rights movement moved to the clear forefront of the mainstream civil rights discussion in the United States, numerous media organizations were quick to reduce it to a loaded question: "Is gay the new black?"
0
"The New Black"
"The New Black"

As the LGBT rights movement moved to the clear forefront of the mainstream civil rights discussion in the United States, numerous media organizations were quick to reduce it to a loaded question: "Is gay the new black?"

I'll admit that when I first heard of it simply by name, I assumed that the new documentary -- "The New Black" -- was a film about answering that rather annoying proposal. But, thankfully, it does far more than that. Opening this weekend at Film Forum in New York, Yoruba Richen's film makes it clear that the relationship between the African-American civil rights and the LGBT rights movements is extraordinarily complex, both comparatively and intersectionally. Whether "gay is the new black" is not Richen's focus, and her film makes it clear that it shouldn't be ours either.

"The New Black" intimately offers discussion care of dozens of people -- some for LGBT rights, some against it, some confused in the middle.  Collectively they provide a portrait of what it means to be black, what it means to be gay, what it means to be a Christian, and how those three things can intersect, particularly with respect to politics.  And it's a much more intricate portrait than is often offered to us in mainstream media (if offered at all).

The film is framed around the Maryland same-sex marriage referendum during 2012's general election (known as "Question 6"), a referendum that was voted in favor of same-sex marriage by a 52-48 margin. It follows a group of activists -- many of them young, black and LGBT -- as they go door to door canvassing in support of same-sex marriage, often getting doors quickly shut in their faces. The film's most powerful moments come by following these brave individuals, who deal with multiple oppressions as they fight for a cause that has in ways generalized black people as opponents of.

Black voters have been vilified as a prominent demographic in anti-gay votes on things like Prop 8. But "The New Black" explains how some of it has recently come from larger (and largely white) anti-gay organizations, who have targeted black churches in "wedge strategy" campaigns to increase homophobia and thus homophobic voting patterns among religious, black voters. In the film, one white, anti-gay rights organizer discussed how in one campaign "people wouldn't touch the blacks" when they spoke out against gay rights, suggestively because of the touchy subject of their own oppression. 

There is absolutely systemic homophobia in the African-American church that extends beyond that influence.  The film makes that clear via conversations with prominent, ridiculously homophobic members. One black pastor somehow believes that the LGBT rights movement wants to put "blacks back on the back of the bus." But "The New Black" also looks beyond the vicious pull-quotes of those leaders and asks us to consider religion in the African-American community on a different level.

As one person in "The New Black" explains, the church has long been "a source of education, community, information and a sense of self-worth" for African-American people, dating back to slavery when faith was often all an African-American person had to go on. Vilifying anti-gay leaders both within the church and influencing it is absolutely fair game, but vilifying the church in general is not. But that's what a lot of LGBT rights organizations -- and LGBT people in general -- tend to do.  

"The New Black" -- and many of the people it depicts -- teaches us that it's not that simple. Just as many homophobic leaders try to wrongfully condemn LGBT people as making a "sinful choice," people need to also understand that religious communities and the ideals that come with them are something people are often born into, and that slowly but surely promoting understanding (as many people in "The New Black" are devoting large parts of their lives toward) is a much more effective strategy than creating the divide between two communities (ones with intersecting members) that the true villains of human rights in this country hope for.

"The New Black" opens at New York's Film Forum today. For more information, click here.