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March 28, 2014, 12:25 AM | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Yoruba Richen loves the creative process—from the conceiving of an idea, researching it, finding characters, shooting and post-production.
"It is one of the most satisfying things ever," she says. "[It] engages me intellectually, emotionally and artistically, in a way like nothing else does.
Her latest creative endeavor, "The New Black," is screening at the CIFF and examines the black community's diverse responses to the issue of gay marriage. The idea for the film started in 2008, explains Richen, when was watching the historic presidential election of Barack Obama. At the same time, Proposition 8, which opposed same-sex marriage, was on the ballot in California.
The euphoria from Obama’s win, was "countered by dismay and anger over the loss of marriage equality," she says. Richen recounts "an erroneous" CNN exit poll that placed the blame for the passage of Prop 8 on California’s black voters, "and by extrapolation, the African-American community in general."
Although the number of African-American voters quoted in the report was inaccurate, the "stereotype of black homophobia" became a national issue.
"As a member of both the gay and African-American communities, it was a disturbing and disheartening turn of events," Richen says. "A low point in the struggle for civil rights for all."
"The New Black" was the result of "my refusal to see marriage equality and African-American civil rights as competing struggles," says Richen. She decided to delve further into the topic to find out "why these two freedom struggles were continually coming into conflict," she says.
The film documents activists, families and clergy on both sides of the campaign to legalize gay marriage and examines homophobia in the black community’s institutional pillar—the black church.
Although the movie centers on conflict, Richen's film remains balanced and fair. She will never forget when she was approached by a self-proclaimed "homophobic" woman after the film's premiere in Los Angeles. She told Richen that she really appreciated the film and that it "opened up her views in a way that hadn’t happened before." This woman even took it a step further-- she was going to recommend the movie to her fellow church members and her sorority sisters. After their discussion, Richen realized, that's exactly what she was trying to accomplish with her film -- opening up minds and having them "shift to a more open, accepting place."
The film has screened at several festivals and won audience awards at AFI Docs, Philly Q Fest and Frameline LGBT Film Festival as well as a special jury mention at Frameline. She loves the recognition, and admits that "the audience reaction is fuel – to see your work making people laugh, cry, feel upset or hopeful – is an amazing thing."
It's also a personal challenge. "But with each film I want to do better and surpass myself artistically," she says.
--Anne M. DiTeodoro
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