The New Black: a film on race, same-sex marriage, and intersectionality

Originally posted in September 2015 on Feministing.

Yoruba Richen‘s documentary about the African American community’s struggle for marriage equality is coming soon to a TV screen or laptop near you.

The New Black, a film by Yoruba Richen, explores Black organizing for (and against) the successful 2012 Maryland referendum on same-sex marriage.

The film premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, won awards at AFI Docs and Philly Q Fest and the Frameline LGBT Film Festival. The film had its theatrical premier at The Film Forum in New York City and its television premiere on PBS’s Independent Lens. And this month, the film is finally available on NetFlix.

I spoke to Yoruba about her film on my WBAI radio show [it starts at 32:56]

Katie: What inspired you to make the film?

Yoruba: I started conceiving of this film with the election of 2008… the first election that Barack Obama won and where Proposition Eight, which outlawed marriage equality [in California], won. And I happened to be in California at the time… And what was so crazy, what started happening was, not only was there this huge progressive victory but there was also this loss that was so devastating to the LGBT community. And pretty much immediately Black people started to be blamed for the passage of Proposition Eight. And I wanted to look at why this was happening, how it was that these two groups were being pitted against each other, essentially… But I wanted to look at how the African American community, specifically, was grappling with this in light of the election of President Obama, and the fight that we were seeing over the legacy of civil rights.

Katie: How did you feel, as an African-American lesbian, when you heard people pitting these two groups together as if they were mutually exclusive?

Yoruba: I got really frustrated and angry because Black LGBT voices were shut out of the debate. And as African-Americans we often are considered a monolith and the… complexity of what’s going on in our community is not featured or brought out by the media.  I felt like the media was really getting the story wrong — and not just the media but activists on both sides of the issue also were coming out with latent racism and latent homophobia. It just felt to me that this was a story whose time had come and because it was a story that was going to be unfolding over the next few years. It was a story that I could follow and see where it would end up, and again, I had no idea that we would end up where we have.

Katie: For someone like Pastor Derek McCoy [the President of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council] who opposes marriage equality, one of the reasons that marriage equality is so dangerous is because of the way the [assumed heterosexual] Black family was able to resist… slavery, which divided up families, separated people… And Bishop Yvette Flunder uses that same history to kind of say… ‘We [African Americans] have always had a sort of untraditional family structure. And because of that it almost lends itself to same-sex marriage.’

Yoruba:  A lot of the push back that you get in the Black community is that we already have such a fragile family system: teenage pregnancy, high rates of divorce, women not marrying, and this is another threat to the family. And what Bishop Flunder is saying is that, “because of the history and legacy of slavery and racism and segregation, we’ve always had to reconfigure out families in a different way. Depend on grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, neighbors. Not that we don’t have sort of traditional families. There’s another part in her interview that  I didn’t use in the film where she says that ‘I feel like the Black community could learn a lot from the LGBT community in terms of family and structuring family.’

You can listen to the entire interview with Yoruba below. It starts at 32:56

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