Coinciding with October's Gay and Lesbian History Month, director Yoruba Richen explains below the background to The New Black, her film that examines issues of race, spirituality, and LGBT equality.
|Director Yoruba Richen|
What I’ve learned from folks I’ve met at screenings and who have reached out to bring The New Black to their campuses and communities is that the film itself serves as both a learning and teaching tool—one that many people had been yearning for. The national conversation about marriage equality and LGBT rights has rarely addressed intersectionality or the unique issues facing Black LGBT people. That’s particularly troubling when you consider the media’s insistence in portraying the African American community as monolithically homophobic—a depiction that not only ignores LGBT allies in the Black community, but is tantamount to the erasure of Black LGBT voices. When tensions among the Black community, communities of faith, and LGBT communities are acknowledged, there’s been little effort to get beyond an us-versus-them narrative in favor of a more nuanced examination—political, historical, and sociological—of where these conflicts arise from and why they persist. You cannot talk about the ways in which African American Christianity affects attitudes toward LGBT rights without a concurrent discussion about the Black church’s historical role as a place of refuge and resistance against racism and oppression. You cannot indict the Black church as a bastion of homophobia without also recognizing the role the evangelical Christian right wing has actively played in perpetuating that homophobia. Mainstream LGBT activists cannot call on Black people to support gay civil rights while ignoring issues like racism, poverty, incarceration, and police brutality—issues that disproportionately impact the Black community overall and affect Black LGBT folks at even more staggering rates. You cannot celebrate the dismantling of DOMA without decrying the defanging of the Voting Rights Act. These are critical, necessary conversations The New Black facilitates, and there is no more timely moment to be having them than now.
Over the last year, I’ve been humbled to see the ways The New Black has helped make measurable change as a public education tool. It was used in successful statewide pushes for marriage equality in Illinois and Maryland, and is currently being used in the same-sex marriage effort in Utah. The film has been recognized as a tool in promoting workforce diversity and has screened at the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, NASA, and Freddie Mac. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center held a special screening and discussion of the film for LGBT youth living in foster care. SCO Family of Services and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) sponsored intimate screenings specifically for the populations they serve. In collaboration with nonprofit partners, initiatives have been piloted that will use the film as the centerpiece of a strategy to make historically Black colleges and universities more LGBT inclusive, as well as a national effort to create more LGBT-welcoming and -affirming churches. The New Black team is working with a number of partners to embed the film in existing curricula, toolkits, discussion guides, film modules, and other resources. In short, outreach is expanding, and with it, so, too, is the conversation around the issues highlighted by the film.
One of my favorite anecdotes speaks to the film’s ability to change minds. Earlier this year, during a panel discussion at a screening of The New Black hosted in partnership with a St. Louis-based LGBT rights organization, the prominent pastor of a local African American church publicly apologized for “the Black church’s role” in opposing LGBT rights, as well as its “nonacceptance of the gay community.” Moments like that cut to the heart of what this work is all about and serve as proof that The New Black not only has a role to play in fostering understanding, acceptance, and connection—but also in potentially healing old wounds and forging new alliances. Again and again, I have seen exchanges like these, which are genuinely transformative and deeply meaningful. I am honored to bear witness to them and to be part of this effort that is making the kind of slow but steady progress that resonates through lives and across communities.