Every year, Cinema Politica brings some of the most important, relevant and powerful political and social documentaries to Canadian screens. This year, one of the most anticipated films is Blair Dorosh-Walter’s Out in the Night, which tells the stories of four African-American lesbian women who were incarcerated after an altercation outside a New York theatre, labeled as a ‘ruthless lesbian gang’ despite clearly acting in self-defense. In the spirit of films like The Thin Blue Line, Out in the Night methodically deconstructs the case against these four women, as well as shedding light on their lives before and after their prison sentences.
Formally, Out in the Night uses the same set of tools as other socially-conscious documentaries. Talking heads, inter-titles, archive footage, you know the drill. Expanding or playing with the limits of representation and documentary form aren’t really the concern of the film as much as communicating information in as direct a manner as possible.
Out in the Night succeeds in this goal, telling the story of these four women and laying out the many holes, inconsistencies and outright fabrications in the case laid against them in such detail that it becomes almost impossible to doubt their innocence. Simply as an example of documentary journalism, Out in the Night is a very strong film.
However, like many films of this nature, Out in the Night doesn’t quite go far enough. Although the story of these women and the many ways in which society and “the system” failed them are laid out, the larger questions, and any attempt at answering those questions, are only slightly touched upon. It isn’t enough, for me, to simply say -how- these women were wronged so spectacularly, but -why-.
What are the systems of homophobia, male entitlement and racism that created a world where these events could even happen? How has the media, whose sensationalist coverage of the incident and subsequent trials is a focus of the film, become so skewed and dependent on hyperbole and exaggeration? What social and political systems are responsible for what happened, and most important of all, how can we combat them?
The film does an excellent job at raising awareness of the many failures of the American justice system and the adversity faced daily by African-American members of the LGBTQ community, but raising awareness is step one. Step two is aiding the audience in putting that awareness to good use, how to channel the outrage at this and similar incidents into real social change. How to recognize the systems, both political and social, that made this happen, and ensure these mistakes are not repeated.
Out in the Night is ideal for festivals like Cinema Politica, and group viewing in general, in that may be at its strongest when accompanied by group discussion. Monday’s CP screening, in partnership with Black History Month Montreal, will include a group discussion with special guest speakers.
Simply watching the film isn’t enough. Talk about it, discuss the questions the film didn’t bring up or answer. Use it as a catalyst, a jumping-off point for discussions of social change and reform. Because although it is very good, it can’t function on its own as a tool for inciting the change in the world that will prevent incidents like the one shown in the film from occurring again.
* Out in the Night plays at Cinema Politica Concordia Monday, February 2, 7pm. 1455 deMaisonneuve Ouest, room H110