Fulbright award-winning filmmaker and former ABC News associate producer Yoruba Richen showed the PBS version of her documentary “The New Black” to students at the Rainbow Center Thursday afternoon, as part of its Out to Lunch Lecture series.
Richen’s film, which she said will be released on Netflix June 2, explains many concepts such as intersectionality, race and sexual orientation through its coverage of the juxtaposition of President Barack Obama’s election, the passing of Proposition 8 – a California law defining marriage between a man and woman – and Proposition 6’s passing of marriage equality in Maryland years later.
The documentary also illustrates a struggle for gay acceptance within the black community in the wake of the recent gay marriage and civil rights movement.
“I’m very interested in telling stories that we don’t get to see in mainstream area,” Richen said in reference to African-American LGBT members and supporters not being given a voice for several years. “This was a story that had been completely told.”
Speakers in the documentary, such as police officer Irene Huskens and even musician Tonex, provide a narrative for viewers to follow throughout the film. Several scenes in the movie show others like them travelling and working on campaigning for gay marriage. “A New Black” also highlights Obama’s change from being an advocate for traditional marriage to a proponent of gay rights by showing many of his public speeches over time.
However, “The New Black” doesn’t shy away from illustrating homophobia within the black community. One of the film’s scenes shot a group of gay marriage advocates trying to convince a group of young black men to vote on their sign, only to be harshly rebuked at first. Another one showed a man closing his home door on similar activists approaching him.
Richen also depicted how African-American pastors at first played a big part in trying to keep marriage defined as between a man and a woman. Many shots of the film are of these pastors denying a comparison to civil rights and using words like “perversion” to describe gay marriage.
“I’m genuinely interested in showing both sides,” Richen said. She also said she wants to show both sides of the debate so that she could get a different perspective – even if she disagreed with a lot of what gay marriage opponents said.
“My goal is to start this conversation and keep it going,” Richen said. “Marriage equality actually became a metaphor for larger acceptance of LGBT issues of community and family. It carries much larger meaning.”
The film’s name came from not only its provocative nature, but also its symbolism: highlighting the new generation of people that are also fighting for civil rights as well as struggling with the acceptance for racial and sexual aspects of their own identity.
“I really appreciated Richen’s work,” 7th-semester psychology major Prekiya Kennebrew said, mentioning that she enjoyed the film’s intersectional look at church and family as important factors in developing and accepting someone’s identity. Kennebrew also said that she liked the film’s optimism in simultaneously tackling issues like rice and orientation.
“A New Black” is a thought-provoking piece on how change for the better, even through the multiple societal and institutional flaws that stifle it, is inevitable with the work of everyday people.