The New Black (NR)

Documentary 74 min. February 12, 2014
By Ernest Hardy
The New Black is documentarian Yoruba Richen’s gripping corrective against the notion that black people are the reason gay marriage was ever in danger of not being realized in states like Maryland. In addition to looking at the ways that race—particularly the “fact” of black antipathy to gay marriage—has been cynically used by the media, right-wing politicians, religious leaders and white queer activists, Richen weaves individual stories of people coming out, of queer families formed without legal recognition or protections, of straight allies (clergy and laypersons alike) battling homophobia, and of the ways the institution of marriage has been historically denied to black people, or how it’s failed to afford them legal security. The film, as ambitious and successful as it is, would have thrown a stronger punch had Richen actually included post-elections data and analysis that laid bare the bad science and racist reporting used to vilify black voters. And a scene in which black LGBT activists lament the thin support for gay marriage even among themselves hinges on the notion that those particular nonsupporters are simply uninformed, where the inclusion or acknowledgment of progressive voices like African-American activists and cultural critics such as bell hooks and Kenyon Farrow—who have questioned the institution of marriage itself (hooks) and witheringly critiqued the current push for gay marriage specifically (Farrow)—would have added nuance. Still, The New Black is a crucial film, one that rivets the viewer even as it performs heavy political and cultural lifting.
Yoruba Richen Yoruba Richen Yvonne Welbo, Angela Tucker


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