A powerful, chilling and troubling documentary about gender violence, sexual identity, racial stereotyping, economic discrimination and an extremely non-functional legal/judicial system, Out in the Night talks about all these issues with clarity, honesty, and for the most part, objective reflection. The documentary follows a horrific incident that happens in the lives of four women: Renata (a gender non-conforming single mother), Patreese (a poet at heart) and their friends Venice and Terrain. All four are black gay women living in Newark, NJ. As they walk around a seemingly gay-friendly and safe neighborhood in West Village, New York one evening, they are confronted by an older man who first verbally assaults them, and then upon disclosure by Patreese that they are gay, threatens to rape them. He goes on to spit at them and toss a cigarette in their direction. When threatened and sensing physical harm, Renata and Venice come to the defense of the group, while the guy rips the dreads of Venice’s head and begins to choke Renata. The four retaliate in self-defense. The altercation results in this man being gravely injured when Renata pulls a knife on him.
The versions of what happened and who did what continue to be debated and the footage from the five security cameras in the vicinity end up being interpreted differently by different members of the jury when the four women are charged with gang violence. Following their arrests, the media tries them publicly and the courts through their broken system. The women are branded “gangs of lesbians”, “gang of killers” and other labels splashed all over the media. This frenzy against them is capped when the jury finds all four guilty and hands them differing prison terms, with Renata being put in jail for 11 years.
The premise of this powerful documentary is to expose how gender violence is systemic and no matter what the situation, the stereotyping of women of colour, from a sexual and/or gender minority puts them right at the bottom of the social hierarchy, where their rights are trampled on with little remorse. The heartening part of this ugly and inhumane story is that their sexual orientation is not a cause for stigma in their families or their community. Being gay in the black community is not easy. And not just sexual orientation, but acceptance of gender non-conformity still has a long way to go. Unfortunately, it’s only the women from their families who speak on camera. The women’s case finds some support, when their counsels pursue an appeal and the higher court throws out the indictment for lack of compelling evidence. Some respite perhaps, yet the two plus years in prison leave indelible marks on all of them.
Out in the Night is a chilling reminder that every additional difference adds an additional burden and vulnerability to our daily living, when we live in a world steeped in ignorance and utter defiance of humanity.
Thanks to Blair Dorosh-Walther for bringing this story to the author’s attention.