By Andrea Dwyer
Out On Film, Atlanta’s LGBT film festival, took place from October 2nd through 9th, showing a variety of films ranging from shorts that address transgender identity issues to sobering documentaries about spirituality and the policing of Black queer lives. This year’s lineup included standout films, Black is Blue (directed Cheryl Dunye), Blackbird (Julian Walker, Mon’Nique), Out in the Night and Al Nisa: Black Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca (directed Red Summer). I had the chance to indulge in a little escapism where I watched the latter documentary films.
Out in the Night
Well told documentaries have a way of inviting in their viewers like hospitable hosts welcoming a guest and the 75-minute documentary film, directed by Blair Dorosh-Waltherb, does just that. The film tells the grim tale of four Black queer women who were victims of a gay bashing incident in Manhattan’s West Village. In August of 2006, a young man approached a group of young women and proceeded to make sexual advances toward the ladies. The advances were struck down, igniting a series of unfortunate events in which the women had to fight off their attacker. Seven women were involved in the incident but what resulted for Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown and Terrain Dandridge, also known as the “The New Jersey 4,” could be compared to a nightmarish game in a psychological thriller. The four young women were all charged with an extensive list of crimes and were ultimately sentenced to substantive prison terms. As the film’s creators state, “The film follows their journey to Rikers Island, the courtroom, and through slanderous media coverage.”
Through emotional telling and intimate cinematography, cameras invite us in on unforgettable journeys, a ride that’s often riddled with heartache and sobering scenes. Viewers also get an intimate take on the story from the perspective of two of the women involved, Renata Hill, a masculine identified, single mother, and Patreese Johnson, an artist with a demure temperament. The film also captures the experiences of the young ladies’ lawyers, a journalist, and several family members for those involved. Among other issues surrounding the harrowing ordeal, the documentary highlights Hill’s difficult separation from her young son and the struggles that Patreese Johnson and her family face as a result of her incarceration. For instance, the film shows the challenges that Johnson’s sister faces as she tries to support her by sending expensive packages and taking long commutes to visit her in jail. During the course behind bars, loved ones pass on and we see the often unspoken physiological effects that being confined triggers, issues such as post-traumatic stress.
Al Nisa: Black Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca
Brought to you by Red Summer (ELIXHER Magazine cover girl…): Muslim, lesbian, mother, poet, writer, director; the list goes on. Al Nisa, (Arabic for “The Women”) intimately captures the lived experiences of a group of Muslim women living in Atlanta, the South’s Black gay Mecca. Through a series of interviews and a communal meal, the ladies share their pains and triumphs with their search to marry, faith and sexual identity. At times painful, and with much candor, the documentary subjects answer questions such as what does it truly mean to be gay and Muslim? The Islamic code is indoctrinated as such that homosexuality and spirituality can’t coexist. The telling of such a powerful story comes at a crucial time as the Islamic world has seen a spike in the killings of gay men in the Middle East in the past year.
Red Summer beams with delight when expressing the moment when she found out she wasn’t the only Muslim lesbian around. When she met singer, activist, Meshell Ndegeocello, who embraced mother, queer, and Muslim, it was a reaffirmation of what she already knew to be true: “The identities can exist.” Shortly after, Summer went on a search to find others who were like her and she certainly found them in Atlanta. My greatest take away from this film was that I left wanting more. I wanted to know more about each of the film’s subjects. I wanted an in depth look into their day-to-day lives and how they practiced their faith. I wanted to know more about Islam. But for a graduate school endeavor the film did what it was supposed to, and it captured a sect of our community that isn’t often heard or seen.
This post originally appeared on SUPER.selected. Cross-posted with permission. Read the original article here.