By Mariah Castillo
Warning: this contains spoilers!
|The New Jersey 4
The 2015 Athena Film Festival had an amazing line-up of movies. One that especially stood out to me was Out in the Night, a documentary by Blair Dorosh-Walther. Dorosh-Walther delves into the story of the New Jersey 4, a group of friends who, in 2006, were sent to prison after defending themselves from a violent catcaller. Typically, when people reasonably act in self-defense, they at most receive lighter sentences. These four young women were sentenced to up to 11 years in prison, serving longer than others who’ve intentionally committed even graver acts. Why were these women treated differently?
The answer: they are queer women of color.
Renata, Patreese, Venice, and Terrain grew up in a bad neighborhood in New Jersey. Their families were accepting when they came out, and they would often go to the West Village together to meet other members of the LGBTQ community. One night, they and three other friends were hanging out, when a man in front of a store started catcalling them. One of the women, Patreese, told him that they were gay, but after finding out that they were lesbians, the man made comments such as “I’d fuck you straight,” and started getting even more violent. It all escalated to the point that the man was stabbed. The group was arrested, and when they went to court, Renata, Terrain, Venice, and Patreese all pled not guilty.
The whole incident and the trial caused a firestorm in the media. Newspapers, magazines, and TV anchors identified them as a “gang,” “raging Lesbians,” and even “wolf pack.” A few of the media talked about the catcaller in passing, if at all. The judge in their case misled the jury, and the four women received, among others, charges that included “Gang Assault,” even though they weren’t part of a gang at all.
Seeing the trial and the media backlash, it was impossible to not get angry. Now the four women have to go to prison, and their families have to cope. Seeing how each person reacted was difficult to watch. There were a lot of tears shed (by the people in the documentary and by the audience- or just me). One could hear the gasps and outcries by the members of the audience when even more devastating revelations came to light. Dorosh-Walther was able to film starting from when the four women were appealing their cases to when Patreese was finally released from prison. The New Jersey 4 were seen trying to lead a normal life, trying to find employment and a place to live with a criminal record. Despite the obstacles, Renata, Terrain, Venice, and Patreese are all determined to succeed in their future endeavors.
The audience applauded loudly for the movie, and gave Renata, Terrain, and Patreese a standing ovation when they sat on stage with Dorosh-Walther for the Q & A. Aside from answering one painstakingly awkward question about why Dorosh-Walther, as a white person, felt hesitant to tell the story of queer women of color (which she answered flawlessly), the Q & A was handled very well. Renata, Terrain, and Patreese are some of the funniest people to have the floor at Barnard 304. They mixed humor with their deep answers, and they continued to inspire the audience when the whole event was over. They each took the time to talk to those who went up to them. I was literally star struck!
As one person commented, for a project that started in the mid-2000’s, the cinematography was of pretty high quality. Sometimes the transitions between words and clips were a bit abrupt, but it never detracted from the whole experience.
Out in the Night is one of those movies you think about long afterwards. The emotions it evoked helped highlight the injustice queer women of color are at risk of facing every day. For a movie that was featured at 9PM on a Saturday night, the full house and the energetic, engaged audience showed how much of an impact it has made.
Mariah Castillo is a Junior at Barnard College and the Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing
Image courtesy of indiewire.com
For more information on the film, visit the official website.