Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ten Documentaries All Same Gender Loving Black Folks Must See

The documentary is an interesting film genre.  To be done properly it must find that perfect balance between entertaining and educational.  It's a bit difficult to get it right.  That being said, there are so few documentaries that focus on same-gender loving African-Americans.  Usually whenever I hear of one, I rush to get my hands on it.  All of the films on this list are a part of my library.  I have seen them all.  This is just my opinion of ten great documentaries that focus on black LGBT folks.  I would love to hear your thoughts on what I got right (what titles on this list do you love) and what I got wrong (what titles did I omit that should be included). 

10.  Just Between Us:  For a film that includes some of the biggest movers and shakers in the black same-gender loving community, this documentary is almost unheard of by most African-American LGBT folks.  It addresses such diverse issues as HIV/AIDS, coming out, and living on the down-low, and the roster of names represented in the film includes the likes of Maurice Jamal, Bobby Blake, Faith Trimel, and Sharon Bridgforth.  Creative minds and community organizers answer questions that look  at how we’ve evolved, current issues impacting us, and where are we headed as a people.  This documentary honestly should be much higher on the list.  The only reason it is listed at number ten is because it is almost impossible to get your hands on it.  It is currently listed as unavailable on Amazon.   

9. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story:  Anyone paying attention to the recent trend of athletes coming out should have noticed that the majority of names seem to be African-American.  This year in baseball there was David Denson.  Also recently there has been Derek Gordon and Jason Collins in basketball,  and Michael Sam in football.  But as we develop the list of black same-gender loving athletes, let’s not forget the incredible boxer and world record holder Emile Griffith.  His story has been captured in the documentary Ring of Fire.  In it we learn about his rise to the top as a boxer, his career defining fight with Paris “The Kid” Benet, and his struggle with his sexuality.  Griffith is quoted as saying, “I kill a man and most forgive me, I love a man and many say this makes me an evil person.”

8. ENDGAME: HIV in Black America – Let’s be honest, African-Americans are the new face of HIV/AIDS.  We still make up half of all new infections even though we are a mere 12 percent of the U.S. population.  We are disproportionately infected and affected by this disease.  But for some reason, this continues to be a topic that we are uncomfortable addressing.  There is constant finger pointing and passing of blame.  But it is time that we move beyond determining who is at fault and get to the business of getting people tested, getting those positive connected to services, and finding a way to stop the transmission of the virus.  ENDGAME brings awareness to this taboo issue that most would like to continue to disregard.  It forces us to address the elephant in the room.

7. Jumping The Broom: The New Covenant – Several years (long before marriage equality was a reality in the U.S.), I had friends that  didn’t think the right to get married was something black same-gender loving folks was concerned with.  Then slowly but surely, a few states began to do the right thing and grant marriage equality to it's gay and lesbian constituents.  In more than a few of those states, the first same sex couple to get married was a black couple.  This trend proved to me that not only was marriage equality an issue for our community, it was a priority.  This incredible documentary by Debra Wilson focuses on four different same-sex couples, each in long-term relationships, all with the desire to get married and legally spend the remainder of their years together.    

6. Tongues Untied (or any film by Marlon Riggs) -  Before there was Patrik Ian-Polk, Maurice Jamal, or Dee Rees, the only film maker creating projects that focused on gay and lesbian black folks was Marlon Riggs.  Tongues Untied.  Black Is . . . Black Ain’t.  Color Adjustment.  All of these films offer a unique perspective into the world of same-gender loving African-Americans, HIV positive African-Americans, African-Americans in the artistic sphere, and various other groups that, until Marlon, did not have a voice and were almost invisible.  A brilliant film maker and creative genius, Marlon died way too young from complications from HIV.

5. Call Me Kuchu – Focusing on homophobia in Uganda, following the creation of their “Kill the Gays” bill that garnered worldwide attention, Call Me Kuchu does a marvelous job showcasing the level of hatred and intolerance this country has toward gays and lesbians.  But this is not the only film that accomplishes this.  Stephen Amos’ Batty Man  spectacularly delves into homophobia in Jamaica and the U.K.  Dispatches:  Africa’s Last Taboo is another film that takes us to the continent of Africa and addresses how same-gender loving folks are treated.  What each of these films does very well is bring notice to how LGBT community members are treated in communities around the world.  And the conclusion I’m going to draw is that things ain’t pretty. 

4. James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket - One of the greatest voices of the African-American civil rights era, Baldwin's works include Notes of A Native Son, The Blacker the Berry, Giovanni’s Room, and The Fire Next Time.  In the Price of the Ticket, we get to see Baldwin talk about his activism in black equality in the 60s, his time living abroad, and his famous peers that would pop up on Saturday evenings just to drink and party with him.  A fantastic writer and an equally gifted orator, Baldwin was a much sought after speaker and would share the stage in debate with some of the greatest minds of the era including William F. Buckley and Malcolm X.  If you’re a fan of literature or a person interested in the history of the civil rights movement, this documentary is a must to add to your list.

3. Brother Outsider: The Bayard Rustin Story – This is the story of a man who until recently received none of the credit he deserved for spear heading and organizing the 1963 March on Washington, for bringing together the African-American community and the labor movement, and for instructing Dr. Marin Luther King Jr on the proper methods of non-violent, peaceful protests.  As an openly gay man, there were many African-American leaders that assumed that Rustin’s involvement with the movement would be detrimental to their efforts.  Thankfully Dr. King was smart enough to realize that Bayard’s skills as an activist and an organizer were not just a benefit of the movement, they were invaluable.

2. The New Black – This project by Yoruba Richen takes a look at the struggle for marriage equality in Maryland.  In what was a baited effort to bid the African-American community against the LGBT community, no one wanted to take into consideration there were folks that were members of both communities.  These individuals with dual citizenship refused to fall into the trap and took to the streets educating folks on the importance of marriage equality, registering voters, and exposing the opposers of equality for their bigotry and bias.

1. Paris Is Burning – Paris Is Burning is the first time the world was allowed a peek into the Harlem Ball Scene and into the Houses of which the scene is composed.  Before Madonna gave us “Vogue”, Jennie Livingston gave us Willi Ninja, Paris Dupree, Pepper LeBeija and Octavia St. Laurant.  It was unlike anything we had seen before and the world was captivated by it.  Before Paris Is Burning, no one knew what happened to these inner city kids that were kicked out of their homes for being gay.  They formed their own community.  Their own family.  And these familes [these houses] would compete against each other on the run way.  Following the release of this film, some of these individuals became household names.  And vogueing would become one of the biggest dance sensations of the nineties.

There are several documentaries that I would love to see but unfortunately either they have not been made available yet, or they are currently out of print. Bayou Maharajah and Al Nisa: Black Muslim Women in Atlanta's Gay Mecca look like they're going to be great, but they are not yet available for purchase. Hope you enjoyed the list and I hope you take the time to check out these films.  If there are titles out there that did not make the list, that I should be made aware of, please let me know.  

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