For Black gay filmmaker Micheal Rice, 2020 was a tipping point.
Like the rest of the world, the Brooklyn-based documentarian (“party boi,” “black diamonds in ice castles”) began the first quarter of 2020 avoiding transmission of the coronavirus by isolating himself under strict quarantine guidelines by state and federal officials as COVID-19 cases and deaths in New York City soared. It was a safety precaution implemented to curb the spread of one deadly virus while another continued to rage, leaving Rice and other Black and queer people susceptible to state-sanctioned violence and a never-ending loop of Black trauma on the evening news. Although Rice says he felt powerless at the time, he knew he had to use his artistry to respond. “Black AS U R,” Rice’s new documentary film premiering at Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival in April, is his response.
“BLACK AS U R” weaves through the complexities of Black queerness by taking audiences on a journey through the homophobia that penetrates many Black spaces. The film examines the impact of HIV stigma, sex work, suicide, bullying, and acts of violence against Black trans people, including the vicious mob attack of Iyanna Dior at a convenience store in St. Paul, MN only days after the fatal killing of George Floyd in neighboring Minneapolis. The film also features the first time a documentary has highlighted the story of Dominque Rem’mie Fells, a young Black trans woman whose murder reignited the “Black Trans Lives Matter” movement of 2020.
The reaction to the beating of Dior and the death of Fells (on an ever-expanding list of Black trans murders) in comparison to the global outrage of George Floyd’s death sent Rice into a tailspin.
“After I've gone through that, [the death of Floyd] to see this young Black trans girl brutally beaten by people who look like me sent me into an overload of rage and frustration,” he said. “And when I started speaking out about it through social media, I started getting a lot of flack from most of our heterosexual brothers and sisters, and a few of our gay brothers and sisters, when just moments ago, everybody was united talking about Black lives matter. But it made me bring up the question: When do Black lives matter? Does it only matter when you are a heterosexual Black individual or does it matter for the totality of who we are as a people?”
Rice tells The Reckoning that it was clear, at least to him, that it was time for the Black community to see the impact of its homophobia on the lives of Black LGBTQ+ people.
“I wanted to hold up a mirror to our own community and help us create a space where we could talk about queerphobia, homosexuality, and what it means to be Black and gay in this country to our mamas, our daddies, our preachers, our pastors, our teachers, our brothers, our sisters, our aunts, and our uncles,” Rice says.
“I wanted us to really have an authentic documentary that not only spoke to our community, but gave context and history from a Black queer person, because that, I have never seen outside of Marlon Riggs [ “Tongues Untied”] in 1989 before he died of AIDS-[related complications], and that was 32 years ago,” he adds.
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