Yoruba Richen discusses her doc ‘The New Black,’ about homophobia

Filmmaker Yoruba Richen descends into the gay debate among African Americans in "The New Black." Credit: The Philadelphia Cinema Alliance
Filmmaker Yoruba Richen descends into the gay debate among African Americans in “The New Black.”
Credit: The Philadelphia Cinema Alliance

“The New Black” is director Yoruba Richen’s documentary that shows how the African American community is divided when it comes to the issue of homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Richen alternates between the opposing viewpoints, including straight ally Sharon Lettman-Hicks and anti-marriage equality pastor Derek McCoy, letting each express his/her position as their state of Maryland votes on marriage equality.

How did you find the interviewees for this doc?
I started looking into and focusing on is who is trying to bridge the divide between LGBT and the African American community–who was doing the work to undo the damage that was done during Prop 8. I found Sharon, and she was super interesting. She came from a civil rights world, and was a straight person fighting for LGBT equality and counteracting homophobia in the black church. I then looked at the activists working on this issue like Karess, as well as Rev. Delman Coates, the Black minister advocating for it, and pastor Derek McCoy, who was leading the charge against it.

Was there a particular interview or exchange that crystallized your need to make this film?
Sharon’s family barbeque showed the gamut of feelings about this issue. It was funny, poignant, and angry. Also, when I found Tonex, the [gay] Gospel singer, who crystallized what was happening in the black church. I felt they could demonstrate what was going on here.

What are the challenges of tackling such a divisive topic within the African American community? Did you receive any backlash?
I am pretty sheltered in terms of being an out lesbian [in New York City]. I did have people say this is very controversial, and we as a community don’t talk about it. But I also think there was a hunger for it, especially because of the recent, political events unfolding.

You alternate between pro and con positions, letting each side tell their story. What was your narrative strategy?
As an African American [filmmaker] we don’t often get the opportunity to tell our story in complex way. That is part of my desire to tell stories–even things I don’t agree with, or are not my opinion. To understanding the complexity gives it more nuance. It was important to have various viewpoints, while also being clear that I have a point of view.

Did people’s minds change about the topic while you were making the film, or is this going to always be an agree-todisagree issue?
It would be interesting to go back to these folks a year from now and see what the folks voting against it feel about it now. I think it’s too early to say. It’s generational. Will people change? Or will their views die out, like racism?



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Television

'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

Season 11’s top four dancers gave their final performances before America’s Favorite Dancers are announced next week.

Going Out

Labor Day in NYC: Make the last weekend…

Soon, it’ll be time for wool accessories and knee-high boots. Even the Pumpkin Spice Latte has already arrived — but we still have one last…

Going Out

Things to do this week in NYC, Aug.…

MUSIC The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees…

Going Out

5 things to do this weekend in NYC

The Electric Zoo Festival Aug. 29-31, 1 p.m. Randall’s Island Park $99-$369, www.electriczoofestival.com The electronic music celebration returns for a fifth year, with 150,000 attendees expected. David Guetta,…

NFL

Mario Manningham on the bubble as Giants play…

Former Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham hopes his second go-around with Big Blue doesn’t end with Saturday’s final cut day.

NFL

Source: Stephen Hill 'faces a battle' to make…

A team source says Stephen Hill, who has battled injuries and poor performances during his first two years, is no lock to make the Jets’ final roster.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…

Wellbeing

4 healthy ingredient swaps to make your meals…

When it comes to eating well, everyone knows they could be doing better. But cooking in an apartment on a busy schedule is a recipe…

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…