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Juan Battle Reviews “The New Black”


The phrase “the new black” originated in the fashion world to describe something that is always current or universally useful.

In this era of reality television, controversy and conflict could be seen as the new black.  If sex and politics are added to the model, then there’s a guaranteed audience. 

This documentary – The New Black – employs the perfect mixture of controversy, conflict, sex, and politics to examine the same-sex marriage debate in the state of Maryland.  All the ingredients are present:  those who support same-sex marriage as well as those who don’t, pastors and political figures, enthusiastic young people committed to ‘change’ as well as older people tied to ‘tradition.’ 

The documentary provides the double entendre of the term “New Black”:  not only that which is current and fashionable, but also new takes on the relationship between Black people and the Black church – the setting where the film couches the debate. 

The documentary was shot over a three year period, resulting in brilliant and heartfelt sound bites that resonate throughout.  Even though the end is known from the beginning, the film is so engaging that most viewers are actually surprised, and thus elated, by the ending. 

The storyline is so compelling that far too many people will miss the point.  This magnificent documentary is not just about the same-sex marriage debate in Maryland among Black Christians. That is only the touch point to much larger and, dare I say, more important issues.    The documentary is about the many intersections of social institutions like government, religion, economics, education, and family.  It elegantly and eloquently speaks to the complexities of social movements, democracy, political organizing, grassroots mobilization, public opinion formation, and more.

Without question, the film is honest, insightful, poignant, and powerful.  But my fear is that people will walk away thinking the issues raised in the documentary are only about one racial group, one religion, one state, and one controversial issue.  They will miss the fact that same-sex marriage is a hotly contested issue in all 50 of the United States as well as her inhabited territories.  They will overlook the fact same-sex marriage is not a ‘settled’ issue within any racial group.  They may not realize that, for example, the Catholic Church is nationally and globally MUCH larger and more far reaching than the Black Church has ever been or will ever be.  They might not realize the interrelationships of public opinion, the political process, and same-sex marriage among evangelicals and fundamentalists of all races. 

Winston Churchill is credited with noting that Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing … after they have exhausted all other possibilities.  Ultimately, the people in Maryland did the right thing.  But this wonderful documentary goes beyond the experience of ‘those’ Black Christians in Maryland.  The movie is really about the desire for change, the desire for the new to replace the old; it’s about the American experience and, thus ultimately, the human experience.  And it is the ever-changing and persistently evolving human experience – expanding to include and not exclude, moving the margins to the middle, and surmounting the seemingly insurmountable – that will always be current and universally useful: The New Black!

The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) is a civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving (LGBTQ/SGL) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.