Michael Knaapen

Out in the Night: A Review and an Opportunity

Filed By Michael Knaapen | January 21, 2015 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: homophobic attacks, injustice, justice, New Jersey 4, racism, Reel Affirmations, violence

Reel Affirmations, a Washington, D.C. organization that hosts LGBT films year-round, will be showing Out in the Night at 7 p.m. on January 30th at the Human Rights Campaign building in downtown Washington.

out-in-the-night-film.jpgThis stirring film tells the story of four lesbians of color - Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson, Venice Brown, and Terrain Dandridge - who were involved in a violent altercation in August 2006... an altercation that changed their lives. The film incorporates interviews, trial transcripts, security footage, and other resources to depict the early lives and loves, as well as the assault and its aftermath.

One fateful night, a number of friends from a low-income community in Newark, New Jersey were visiting New York City. Irony of ironies, these young women were venturing into the bright lights and broad boulevards of the Big Apple to enjoy the freedom of its cosmopolitan vastness, its liberating gayborhoods, its open-mindedness.

At one point they were verbally accosted by a larger older man. He sexually harassed them, but when they told him they were gay, he attacked. In the scuffle, one young woman pulled a knife - protection she had been instructed to always keep on her by her family, a family which had seen much violence and corresponding apathy of local police that convinced them self defense was the only defense.

From there, we follow four of the seven women - three pled guilty and do not figure in the documentary - through their court trials, appeals, and releases.

Details, after the break.

The trial judge, while not filmed, comes through in transcripts and interviews as one of the major villains - a man so jaded by decades of ruling on violent gang crimes that he is unable to see human beings in the dock. His calculus is simply "group of young black people" plus "violence" equals "gang," and he prescribes this erroneous math to the jury.

I couldn't help remembering the scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Quasimodo appears before a deaf judge and is unfairly sentenced because the judge could not hear him; likewise, justice here is not blind but deaf.

Without giving much more away, I have to applaud Out in the Night. The film does a lot. First and foremost, it provides an opportunity for the four women to give their sides of the story, which a flippant media buried beneath sensational headlines that cost the New Jersey 4, as they were called, dignity and justice.

It takes some liberties in spinning out the narrative so viewers are treated to some suspense as to how all the factors come together, and how the sad tale unfolds. I commend director/producer Blair Dorosh-Walther for accomplishing this feat.

If any fault can be found, it is perhaps in doing too much. The film functions on nearly epic proportions for a documentary, in that it wants to spare no precious detail of background or personality of any of its four main subjects. In doing so it is occasionally saturated, though never cluttered; it's a lot of material, but it is all handled with expert and loving care by the filmmakers.

From time to time, the dramatic effect of the story is sacrificed on the altar of accurate storytelling; balls are tossed so quickly that the suspense of the juggle is lost. But no balls are ever dropped.

But more than any dramatic achievement or technical imperfection, Out in the Night performs a singular feat for its medium. It leaves the screen to encompass the viewers in its sphere of concern and invite us to see the injustice around us. It uses this one event and its discrete cast of characters to shed light on a network of social ailments: an earned mistrust of peace officers in blighted neighborhoods, racial inequality in the justice system, entertainment at the expense of honesty in journalism, jaded judges, the prison industrial complex. Out in the Night is not a movie; it's a movement.

Click here for more information about Reel Affirmations' screening of Out in the Night on Friday, January 30. The film's trailer is below.

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