The New Black, coming to the Hattiloo Theatre on February 25th as part of Indie Memphis' Southern Circuit film series, is a documentary about meaning. What does it mean to be African American? What does it mean to be Christian? And, more to the point, what does it mean to be both of those things and gay too?
On November 6, 2012, Maryland became the first state where equality was upheld by public referendum. It was a huge victory for LGBT activists who'd found themselves in an often heated struggle, working in an African-American community divided by faith. As is so often the case, anti-equality activists had framed the election as a referendum on Christian morality and the church.
Journalist/filmmaker Yoruba Richen has described what happened in Maryland as an "out of the shadows" moment. It was the first time the issue of marriage equality was being publicly vetted in an environment where African Americans comprised a significant voting block. And from the outset, anti-equality campaign rhetoric pitted African Americans against gays. Her film personalizes the struggle by focusing most of its attention on an indefatigable clutch of LGBT activists working to directly engage and educate rural and suburban voters in advance of what would become a historic vote.
In addition to its intimate look into the day-to-day lives of activists, their families, and their antagonists, The New Black also attempts to contextualize the historic relationship between black churches and the communities they serve, even as it documents a fight over the very meaning of "civil rights."
Marriage equality has seen many victories since Richen launched her film project in 2010, but not in Tennessee.