Review: ‘The New Black’ and homophobia among African Americans


When California voters passed Prop. 8 in 2008 outlawing same-sex marriage, Robin Tyler — one-half of Los Angeles’ first legally married gay couple — and many others rushed to cast blame on African Americans. That indictment was the catalyst for the documentary “The New Black,” a clear-eyed look at both sides of the same-sex marriage debate among blacks leading up to Maryland’s historic Question 6 referendum vote in 2012 — the first time same-sex marriage was approved via a statewide ballot.

In one corner, we have the ultra-religious: the Rev. Derek McCoy’s Maryland Marriage Alliance, which collected 122,481 signatures that prompted the referendum after the Maryland General Assembly legalized same-sex marriage. In the other corner, we have black gays and allies, among them Human Rights Campaign field organizer Karess Taylor-Hughes, who canvassed door to door hoping to change one mind at a time. Both sides agree that not courting black voters was a tactical error for Prop. 8 opponents. Clashing politics only exacerbate the identity crisis for the black, gay and devout, such as gospel singer Tonéx. “It gets better” does not apply here.

“Promised Land” director Yoruba Richen has refreshingly avoided making this polemic into propaganda, a temptation many lesser documentarians could not resist. She does not make Christians out to be zealots. McCoy gets to defend himself against the charge of being the far right’s puppet. All the while, there are many, such as the remarkable Taylor-Hughes, who prove those monolithic views on African Americans shared by the likes of Tyler to be iniquitous. Although racism within the gay community indeed remains the pink elephant in this room when it comes to any lack of mutual understanding and respect between the two minorities, Richen’s soul-searching over homophobia in the black community is nevertheless essential viewing.


“The New Black”

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.