Back to IndieWire

LAFF Review: Bold Doc ‘Out In the Night’ Explores Black Lesbians’ Rights to Self Defense

LAFF Review: Bold Doc 'Out In the Night' Explores Black Lesbians' Rights to Self Defense

The irony is that, in setting out to exonerate
the women rather than take a step back from the situation as a whole and try to
understand it objectively — something the similarly conceived “Paradise Lost”
movies do extremely well — “Out in the Night” feels just as biased as
the news reports for which it’s meant to serve as a corrective. 
-Michael Nordine 

There’s something about objectivity. After
reading this writer’s recent review of the documentary,”Out
In The Night,
” I couldn’t help but wrestle with the idea that
sometimes, true objectivity can be an extension of privilege; in this case, the
privilege to walk and move freely in public without having to worry that your
survival might be threatened. The immediacy of this film proves that the
grating impact of gender-based harassment and assault cannot be approached with
neutrality, especially from those within its grasp.

Fresh off its world premiere at the Los
Angeles Film Festival
, “Out In the Night” centers on four black
lesbian women from Newark, New Jersey who become the targets of unwanted sexual
advances from a man outside of the IFC movie theater in New York City’s West
Village in 2006. Angry that they refused his advances and asserted their
sexuality, his verbal harassment heightens into a physical fight between them,
caught on surveillance video by the IFC.

In the absence of the man’s interview (he
declined to appear in the film), director blair dorosh-walther cleverly
weaves his court testimony claiming total self-defense with surveillance
footage that shows him physically attacking the women, and uses animation to
clearly identify both party’s roles in provoking the situation. No one is a
victim in this film, and dorosh-walther is not concerned with making any of the
women heroes. Rather, the issues of self-defense and resistance as black women,
and more specifically as LGBT people of color who continually face this type of
harassment, become the main focus. Who has the right to resist?

Soon after the fight, the women are labeled a “Lesbian
Wolf Pack”
 by New York City journalists and media, who seize upon the
opportunity to distort the story in exchange for race-based controversy and
scandal, which helps fuel the lengthy prison sentences that the women are
granted by a corrupt judge who continues to practice law to this day.

It’s all very familiar, and very moving partly
because we are allowed into these women’s lives, and can understand how an
event like this isn’t an isolated occurrence.  It’s part of an escalating
string of brutalities that included the murder of their loved ones, and women
similar to them, such as Sakia Gunn, a New Jersey black lesbian
teen murdered by a man for refusing his advance. In this dangerous web of
socialized crime, sexual assault, gender-based harassment, and continual police
brutality, the documentary asks us to ponder the idea of protection. Who
deserves protection and why aren’t some people protected? Who deserves to
resist, and when does resistance as a black person, as a black woman, or black
lesbian woman become wrong?

There’s also a really interesting way that the public versus
private narrative operates in the film. In their homes and families, these
women are mothers, sisters, and daughters but on the street, they become
instant threats, angry black lesbians out for blood. To contrast the warmth of
these family moments to the headlines and media coverage, is to understand the
power of public narratives- how they can reduce the nuances and complexity of
individuals to a point of non-recognition. 

Shot by talented DP Daniel Patterson,
who also shot Darius Clark Monroe’s powerful documentary “Evolution Of A Criminal,” the
footage exhibits a real sense of place amongst its subjects, going into their
Newark homes, their family’s lives, and exploring the difficult journeys to
their eventual prison releases. In the end, the film stays close to its subject
matter with the immediacy that matches the gender-based violence and harassment
that it documents.  For many women, street harassment is constant, it’s
painful and sometimes even deadly. It’s not something we can be neutral about,
so why should the film?


Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Reviews and tagged ,