Race, gender, sexuality, and class are implicated when African American lesbians are charged as a gang after they attempt to defend themselves from a stranger’s aggressive advances.
In NYC’s West Village on a hot summer night, a man first attempted to flirt with, then homophobically accosted, a group of young women from Newark NJ. Although the women tried to walk away, he egged them on, and the situation turned violent – by the end of the altercation, the man suffered stab wounds, and some of the women bore bruises and other injuries. Only the women were arrested, with media labeling them as a “gang” and a “wolf pack,” the man was deemed their victim, and “The New Jersey 4” went on to be sentenced harshly, despite their claims of self-defense. Director blair doroshwalther attempts to make sense of the incident, and, more importantly, its aftermath, revealing how a matrix of factors contributed to the way the story was reported, and to the (in)justice that was meted out.
With nearly half of doroshwalther’s $23,700 Kickstarter goal for post-production already pledged, the project can still use support in its final two weeks of crowdfunding. To keep updated on the project, check out its Facebook page.
The case of the New Jersey 4 is compelling on a number of levels, made all the more complex because it doesn’t easily reduce to a question of absolute innocence or absolute guilt. The women did use violence, after all, with the man requiring several days of hospitalization. At the same time, they felt their own lives were at stake, presenting an argument for some level of self-defense. Wisely, doroshwalther doesn’t shy away from this complexity, but instead promises to examine it in a larger overview of the case as a whole. Questions of victimhood and self-defense, perceived gender identity and sexuality, acceptable limits of male heterosexual privilege, “harmless” flirting, and casual homophobia, and class- and race-fueled presumptions of gang affiliation all come to a head in this story, with a dose of mainstream media bias and yellow journalism that subtly echoes the “wilding” scares of the Central Park Jogger case. I’m looking forward to seeing how the filmmakers synthesize these various strands into a cohesive analysis, and if their efforts can in some way help mitigate their subjects’ formidable sentences. If I have one criticism, it’s the project’s title – its use of the ubiquitous LGBT signifier OUT unfortunately makes it sound incredibly generic and forgettable, while the subject matter should ensure it to be anything but.
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