The New Black is an engaging and timely documentary by Yoruba Richen “that tells the story of how the African-American community is grappling with the gay rights issue in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights.”
The film demonstrates that while stigma against homosexuality certainly exists in some segments of the African American community, sentiments are certainly not unanimous. Richen first became interested in the issue when learning about the fight over Proposition 8 in California. In this legal case, a ballot initiative was used to reverse the right of same sex couples to wed in the state. This right was eventually restored by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013.
The original success of the ballot initiative revealed a split between many African-Americans and the progressive contingent who support same sex marriage. In 2012 a referendum called “Question 6” was placed on the general election ballot in Maryland. It was a similar attempt to reverse a bill that legalized same-sex marriage (called the “Civil Marriage Protection Act”). However, the results in Maryland were different this time, and the Act was upheld by a 52.4% majority of voters.
Richens decided to explore the issues raised by focusing on activists from both sides in the weeks before the election. With unbiased compassion she gives voice to many in the community – not only those who are unequivocally for or against same-sex marriage, but those who are struggling to reconcile their beliefs. There are a diverse range of opinions, and many people hold evolving views on the subject. This reviewer saw the film at the AFI Docs festival, where it received a standing ovation and generated lively discussion afterwards. It also won the audience award for best feature. The New Black should prove a useful tool for those who want to expand the conversation about stigma and race.
Simone Fary is an Instructional Design and Technology Specialist at The Danya Institute