When America elected Barack Obama president, an accepted truth was that the majority of black Americans rallied behind him if only for the historical importance of his victory. In that moment in 2008, despite how many ideological differences we had, many black people agreed that Obama was the ‘right one’ to support for everyone’s best interest moving forward. The pressure that black people have felt to project solidarity in order to break the cycle of marginalization certainly influenced the voting effort. But once President Obama took office, it appears as if the milestone allowed for that same solidarity to be shed in the interest of freely voicing those same ideological differences that always existed.
Yoruba Richen’s documentary, The New Black, covers one such difference: the vote concerning Question 6 in Maryland, which determined whether the state should legalize same-sex marriages. And although the film focuses on a relatively small community in the United States, its microcosm reflects the national rift among black people who have been polarized by conservative church-born values at the expense of the humanity that the church stood to protect during earlier periods of sociopolitical strife.
Following a range of people in the story, including ministers, young people struggling with their own sexual identities, and the people working on both sides of the issue to fight for their beliefs, The New Black illustrates a conflict among black people that has gone largely unnoticed in the greater national discourse, by our own doing as well as by the disinterested mainstream media.
In case you were wondering about the meaning behind the title (thanks, Jenji and Piper), The New Black is not a cheeky play on words to make a political issue seem fashionable; rather, it establishes the importance of redefining blackness in a way that celebrates the inclusion that we have fought for since long before the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, one documentary cannot change generations of ingrained values, but The New Black may just frame the issue of homophobia and discrimination within the black community in a way that demands a much needed look in the mirror.
Screenings of The New Black have begun throughout the country (including a special engagement at Film Forum in New York from February 12-18). Visit the film’s website to find out when it will be in your area.