Spoiler Alert! Question 6 on last year’s Maryland state ballot passed. Which means I (and the majority of those voting here in Maryland) determined that marriage is no longer restricted to a man and a woman. Equal rights for all, right?
Yes, but you’d be surprised how many people were pointing blame at the wrong parties in the run up to Election Day 2012. Politics loves misdirection. In this case, it goes back earlier as far as director-producer-writer Yoruba Richen is concerned, when African-American voters were unjustly accused for passing California’s Proposition 8 against same sex marriage (yes, the one the Supreme Court has since ripped down), a big lie which really pissed off the black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Especially Sharon Lettman-Hicks, the Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that advocates for African-American LGBT equality. Yet, even knowing the outcome last November, Fulbright Award-winning Richen has fashioned a compelling documentary, providing equal treatment of the topic, no matter how abhorrent it is to some of you.
Richen, a social issues filmmaker, whose 2009 “Promised Land” took a look at some remaining, fragile aspects of post-apartheid South Africa, takes the proverbial homophobic bull by its horns and tackles the issues of marriage equality head on. In one of her statements for the film, “I realized that the issue of gay rights in the black community is in many ways a fight over the African-American family, which has been a contested space since the time of slavery. So marriage is not just about marriage for black people—it’s also about how blacks have become accepted as legitimate participants in American society.” Fittingly, the film had its Maryland premiere in Silver Spring as part of AFI DOCS, where it won the Audience Award.
Covering a variety of characters on both sides of the issue, their stories all edited (nicely, by Ali Muney and Erin Casper) into a energetic presentation; “The New Black” is both compelling and passionate. Among the 20-somethings fighting for equal rights are Karess Taylor-Hughes, a spark plug of a campaigner who’s fearful how her foster mother will accept her sexual preference, and Samantha Master, part of the Black LGMT battle in Maryland since 2007. The National Organization for Marriage has several Maryland pastors espousing their side of the fight, although I wish the filmmaker had spent some time discussing the separation of church and state.
As the film progresses, the countdown decreases, the placards increase, and the voters are awash in massive pleas from both sides. As “The New Black” draws to its predetermined conclusion, Marylanders crowd the voting booths to make their voices heard. You feel a collective breath let go, as all those fighting the good fight see their hopes rise. While the Christian Right loses the battle and their heads are lowered in defeat, you still get the feeling it was a fair (albeit misguided) battle. Richen and her crew have fashioned a well-polished and informative piece that hopefully will provide a blueprint for other communities in states that refuse to legalize gay marriage.