Why Does Ford Want to Tell the Story of the Black Church's Evolution on LGBT Equality?

Karess Taylor-Hughes is a 24-year-old native of Long Island, New York, who didn’t come out to her family because she felt that it would cause them shame. Now her story is one of many that round out the new documentary The New Black, a film that, with the help of the Ford Foundation, uses Maryland’s 2012 legislative fight for same-sex marriage as a backdrop to explore the complex role of the black church in the fight for marriage equality.

“For over three years, I followed how this issue was being debated and understood in the African-American community,” director Yoruba Richen said. “In the course of production, I realized that the issue of gay rights in the black community is in many ways a fight over the African-American family, which has been a contested space since the time of slavery. The gay marriage question has forced a conversation in the black community, which is taking place in our churches, our houses, our neighborhoods and the ballot box."

That the Ford Foundation is supporting a film like The New Black should come as no surprise. This project hits two key funding areas at Ford: The foundation was the largest funder of LGBT work in 2012, putting $11.4 million into this area, and it's also a huge funder of documentaries throughs its JustFilms initiative.

(See IP's guide to Ford's LGBT work here; and our guide to its film funding here.)

JustFilms has partnered with Sundance Institute, the Tribeca Film Institute and the Independent Television Service, to expand the community of independent documentarians and to help filmmakers craft stories that build audiences across platforms. Ford is backing The New Black with a $200,000 grant to Promise Land Film, Inc., at a time when the nexus of race, religion, and sexuality is red hot. 

The Arcus Foundation also kicked in $50,000 last year to support The New Black in a grant routed through the Hartley Film Foundation, which supports films on religion and spirituality. As well, The New Black was helped along by a grant from the Fledging Fund in 2012. 

The modern narrative of homophobia within the African-American community came to a head in 2008 with the defeat of Proposition 8 in California. At the time only 33 percent of polled African Americans said they were in favor of legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

But since then, there has been a sizeable shift in support for marriage equality among African Americans, with 42 percent of African Americans supporting the issue, and key figures and clergy within the African-American community, including President Barack Obama and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have also come out in support of LGBT equality.

With Ford's help, The New Black may help move the needle further.