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Out in the Night | Los Angeles Film Festival 2014

Exactly what is the responsibility of the media in reporting news? In my opinion, news should be reported factually and in an unbiased fashion. However we all know that with the advent of syndicated news channels and the need for 24-hour news cycles, it is easy for smaller stories to escalate to larger ones and others to get sensationalized and out of control. Welcome to the movie Out in the Night, a new documentary by Blair Dorosh-Walther that examines the 2006 case of The New Jersey 4.

 

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Through the lives of four young women, Out in the Night reveals how their race, gender identity and sexuality became criminalized in the mainstream news media and criminal legal system.

The documentary skillfully tells the story of a group of young friends, African American lesbians who are out, one hot August night in 2006, in the gay friendly neighborhood of New York City. They are all in their late teens and early twenties and come from a low-income neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. Two of the women are the focus – gender non-conforming Renata Hill, a single mother with a soft heart and keen sense of humor, and petite femme Patreese Johnson, a shy and tender poet. As they and their friends walk under the hot neon lights of tattoo parlors in the West Village, an older man sexually and violently confronts them. He says to Patreese “let me get some of that” as he points below her waist. When she says that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “fuck them straight”. He spits and throws a lit cigarette. Renata and Venice defend the group and a fight begins, captured by security cameras nearby. The man yanks out hair from Venice’s head and chokes Renata. Then, Patreese pulls a knife from her purse and swings at him. Strangers jump in to defend the women and the fight escalates. As the fight comes to an end, all get up and walk away. But 911has been called and the man involved has been stabbed. Police swarm to the scene as their radios blast out warning of a gang attack. The women are rounded up and charged with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Three of the women plead guilty. But Renata, Patreese, Venice and friend Terrain claim their innocence. They are called a “Gang of Killer Lesbians” by the media. In activist circles they become known as The New Jersey 4.

One can easily forgive Dorosh-Walther for giving us a somewhat one-sided narrative given few people were initially advocating for the women and even fewer people have been able to hear the story from their side, but this is an important documentary to watch. Out in the Night will anger you, sadden you and frustrate you all at the same time and so it should because Justice should be genderless, raceless and sexless and yet we are led to believe time and time again that had these women been middle class heterosexual white women, their lives may have turned out very differently.

The incredible narrative that unfolds over a period of years beginning in 2006 through to present day and in some cases through many of the years that some of the women were incarcerated  will have you glued to your seat. Beyond the injustice however, the most endearing thing about this documentary is the women front and center of the debate, Renata, Patreese, Venice and Terrain, who have very graciously opened up their lives to us.

Out in the Night Trailer

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