Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church
BET documentary explores the intersections of sexuality, race, and faith for Black LGBTQ Christians
February 26, 2017
Filed under Arts
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The church doors have been crucial for Black liberation as a vital ground for the civil rights movement and a continuous space for community in the past and present, but for Black LGBTQ church goers, this space becomes a place of deep conflict as they struggle with reconciling their spiritual beliefs with their sexual orientation, which the Christian bible calls a sin.
The 2015 documentary, Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church, directed by Clay Cane for Black Entertainment Television (BET), explores the intersections of sexuality, faith, and race for Black LGBTQ Christians in Atlanta, following the lives of young Black LGBTQ Christians, their parents, church pastors, and community members. The event was hosted by Cal State LA’s Cross Cultural Centers as a part of the Independent Visions film series last Thursday at the University-Student Union Theatre.
The documentary, which was filmed in six days on a tight budget, was BET’s biggest digital original documentary. It received support from Black transgender celebrity Laverne Cox and former first lady, Michelle Obama. Obama held a screening of the film at the White House, which had an audience full of Black LGBTQ community members.
The film, which acknowledged that the church plays a crucial role in the lives of Black families, explored the lives of various Black LGBTQ Christians as they try to express their true selves while holding onto familial and church ties. Some parents, like Tonyka’s mother, loved their children and stayed in their lives while disapproving of their sexual orientation. Other parents, like those of Hannah and Spencer, kicked them out of the house after finding out about their sexuality. Hannah, Spencer, and many other Black LGBTQ Christian young adults sought refuge at Lost and Found, a homeless shelter which houses a large population of Black LGBTQ Christians.
Some Black LGBTQ Christians in the film discussed feeling depressed and resorting to bodily harm and attempting suicide. Others ventured out of their home churches into Black LGBTQ churches, which became safe haven for those who wished to continue practicing their faith and be their authentic selves.
There was a Q&A panel discussion following the film with director Cane as well as the film’s associate producer Smriti Mundhra and Philadelphia Health Department clinical social worker Antar Bush.
Cane began the discussion by expressing sorrow for the passing of one of the film’s subjects, Del Antonio, last weekend.
“I just never thought that we would lose somebody,” said Cane. “We captured a small piece of his life when he tried to commit suicide at 18 and he dies at 36. It was shocking to me and just shows how important the fight for love is. He’s no longer here and I’m just grateful we could capture a moment of his life on screen.”
When asked about his inspiration for the film, Cane said, “As a Black gay man, you really can’t avoid the discussion of the church. It’s the intersection of faith, sexuality, and race. One of the things I’ve noticed a lot in church is that there is always homophobia and there are always gay folks there. When it comes to Black churches and white churches, white folks will leave but we stay in church culture, so I wanted to know why we had these invisible people and narratives that were not being discussed.”
Cane also emphasized the film’s message of acceptance by stating that he “met people where they were at.” Several of the film’s subjects had different views regarding sexuality and the church, and Cane offered his support to all. For example, Del Antonio, who was molested as a child, had truly believed that he turned out gay because of the abuse. Cane, who disagreed with this belief and comforted Del Antonio, acknowledged that this was how Del Antonio felt and did not try to change his views. Similarly, when talking to Tonyka’s mother, who did not support her daughter’s same-sex relationship and did not attend Tonyka’s wedding, Cane sought to understand her responses instead of passing judgment.
“I thought the film was amazing,” said Tamia Morrow, a Sociology major who is involved with the school’s Sociology Club and Black Student Union. “I actually cried. It made me really open my eyes to see what people in the LGBT community go through.”
Davona Watson, who is a board member in the Black Student Union (BSU) and a member of the Pre-Law Society, resonated with Cane’s message of acceptance. “I found it important that they addressed the fact that we’re all in need of liberation but we’re meeting people where they’re at. We’re addressing the small problems before we can address the big problems.”
Cane encouraged audience members to keep an eye out for his upcoming book, “Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race.” Associate producer, Mundhra, will also be debuting her documentary, A Suitable Girl, on Indian arranged marriages.