L.A. Film Festival: ‘The New Black’ evaluates politics from pews


With same-sex marriage being evaluated at the state level across the country and the Supreme Court near its decision on the subject, the documentary “The New Black” could hardly be more timely.

The film premiered Friday to a theater of enthusiastic viewers. The audience applauded at protagonists’ victories in the film, jeered at antagonist figures and yelled out occasional comments.

Filmmaker Yoruba Richen said she decided to make the film after the 2008 election, when California voters passed Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. One factor in its success was support for the proposition in the African American community.


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Stunned at the portrayal of the black community as a monolithic, homophobic group, Richen documented the campaign for a similar proposition on the Maryland ballot in the 2012 election.

By taking a look into the pulpits and pews of black churches and organizations across Maryland, Richen brings out a theological divide on the morality of LBGT civil rights.

“I knew that this was an issue that was going to continue,” Richen said. “The black community had been pitted against the LBGT community here and it just seemed unfair.”

Richen profiles religious leaders and congregation members with a range of opinions on same-sex marriage. Pastor Derek McCoy, president of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council represents a traditional stance as he advocates for a Christian ideal of marriage between a man and a woman.

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“It’s not a civil rights issue,” McCoy says in the film. “This [homosexuality] is a choice.”

On the opposite side, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, chief executive of the National Black Justice Coalition, works to promote acceptance of same-sex marriage because she believes it is a violation of civil rights for people not to be able to marry whom they choose.

“This is the unfinished business of black people trying to be free,” Lettman-Hicks said.

The film closes on election night. After a tight vote, the proposition passes, allowing same-sex couples to marry.

As images of celebration filled the screen, viewers at the film festival screening clapped and yelled.

One audience member, so moved by the documentary, raised her hand to share her opinion following the premiere.

“You have shown my heart there is a God,” she told the filmmaker and cast members.

The Los Angeles Film Festival will screen “The New Black” on Sunday at 6:50 p.m.



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