At the 2015 Reelout Film Festival in Kingston, I viewed the documentary Out in the Night. In this film, director Blair Doroshwaltherv explores factors of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation and their intersecting impacts in a largely successful way. This is achieved through the depiction and connection to the personal storylines of the women who were involved in a homophobic attack in New York in 2006.
My personal experience at the festival was overwhelmingly positive. Being involved in managing and producing shows in other areas of the arts myself, I connected with and appreciated the personal investments and dedication of the staff and volunteers that were running the event. You could tell that the festival and its messages actually meant something to them. The smaller scale and intimate setting is especially useful when presenting the audience with material that can be emotionally as well as intellectually sensitive yet stirring. This helps the audience connect themes and events that are easily overwhelming to their own lives and (hopefully) not be afraid to let themselves truly think about the tensions raised in this film, such as race and sexual orientation and not dismissing themselves as insignificant in a process of change.
A scene that stands out is when the women first describe the event while they are revisiting the scene. The intersectionality and compounding effects of factors of race, gender, and sexual orientation is profoundly presented. Moreover, it is presented in a way that is not academic in tone, or removed from the raw emotions and pain that these women experienced. The ‘audacity’ of Patreese (who out of the group of women subscribed most closely to normative gender appearance scripts of being ‘feminine’, and was more petite, had long hair and “female” clothing) to shut down the initial sexual advances the man made and to resist the comments and verbal abuse showcases the effects of going against the mainstream ideals and discourses of what women should remain passive and accept and respond to the desires of the dominant man. The women telling the man that they were lesbian only further escalated the situation, as they again ‘dared’ to go against heteronormativity. Since the women did not fit the binary categories of thinking of and defining ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’ and do not identify with normative sexual scripts of being straight, they were not accepted or tolerated by this man, who is ultimately just one embodiment of larger hegemonic masculinities and hegemonic cultural discourses.
The majority of the film shows the conflict and inaccuracies of how the courts and the public defined the event, and how that directly impacted and ultimately uprooted these women from their everyday lives. Interpretations of the event and the women involved in the attack were portrayed in a very particular manner in the media which further aided in emphasizing the hegemonic discourses that are constantly, subconsciously normalized in Western society. Several newspapers and news centres portrayed the women as animalistic, savage, the attacked as being unprovoked against the one man as a wild, aggressive, gang action. The women were depicted in a racialized manner, as well as according to their sexual orientation with headlines emphasizing that they were “angry black lesbians”. Despite that the initial police report insisting that is was completely unrelated to gang activity over the radio, and that no one was severely injured. The man was portrayed as the victim, and that this was a hate crime because he was straight and the women sought out the altercation with the intention of harming someone. No care was given to finding the real facts and components of the situation, no attempts made to engage in any sort of coverage that was balanced and interested in knowing what had in fact occurred, or perhaps more importantly – why it had occurred in the context that it did. One journalist interviewed after the security tapes and other evidence indicated that the women were acting in self defense said she did not withdraw her statements that they were “bloodthirsty” and “seething” in her original article.
The documentary also explores the legal processing, the resulting charges and jail experiences of the women, their efforts to be granted appeals, as well as their experiences of reintegration into their family life upon release. Several facts about their experience in the legal justice system continue to illustrate the inequities these women experienced due to how they were racialized and identified according to their sexual orientation. For example in Patreese’s appeal, she did not have the opportunity to testify, and the judge made his decision saying that she did so falsely. When that was pointed out, he just altered the reasoning yet the judgement stayed the same, and Patreese’s sentence was not greatly reduced. There was also inaccurate interpretation and presentation of evidence, like the man’s injuries actually being from a subsequent and unrelated surgery instead of any wounds from the women.
Perhaps one of the most upsetting factors of the entire situation (from my viewing of the film that is) was that the women were in this area of town, ‘the village’, to begin with because they saw it as a space that they were able to act and identify as themselves in a way that was challenging in their own neighbourhoods, and to be accepted by and interact with other LGBTQ individuals. Nonetheless, the intersecting effects of identifying and being identifiable as women, women of colour, and outside of the heterosexual norm, were evidently devastating for these women as is made evident in they ways the film depicts their storylines.