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The Same Difference looks past the labels

New Cinema Politica documentary looks at the biases rampant within the black lesbian community

Woman. Man. Black. White. Straight. Gay. Trans. Queer. The world is full of labels and boxes that attempt to define people based on their gender, race and/or sexuality. Those who don’t conform to these socially-accepted conventions make people uncomfortable, as they challenge these clear-cut definitions.

The Same Difference, to be screened by Cinema Politica next week, looks at how this notion of boxes and conformity remains rampant, even within marginalized groups.

Onuorah takes a close-up look at the different stigmas that are rampant in the black lesbian community.

Director Nneka Onuorah examines how black lesbians discriminate against each other, enforcing gender roles and stratifying the community according to heteronormative assumptions. The individuals who make up this community are broken down into two broad groups: masculine-projecting studs and feminine-projecting femmes. Anything that defies these two ‘types’ of lesbians is frowned upon.

The film is structured around four social ‘rules’ that exist in the black lesbian community. First, you must either be a stud or a femme. Nothing in between is allowed. Second, no stud-on-stud relationships. Third, no bisexuals. And fourth, no pregnant studs.

These social rules revolve around the same theme: gender roles, and the perceived balance of femininity and masculinity. To be a butch lesbian is fine—so long as you don’t date another butch or get pregnant, as that no longer conforms to the characteristics of the label.

The film is centered around the experiences lived by those who do not conform to these rules. This is where The Same Difference draws its greatest strength, as it gives a voice to those discriminated against or stigmatized for either how they present themselves or for who they choose to love. By zeroing in on those directly affected by the damaging and stringent guidelines that rule the lives of black lesbians, Onuorah shows just how harmful and unnecessary they are.

In addition to allowing those affected a platform to voice their discontent, the film also includes commentary from members of the black lesbian community who support these social rules. It offers their perspective as to why they believe these individuals do or do not belong to certain groups. Thus, the issue is examined from the perspective of both those who are affected by, and those who propagate the social structure.

In addition to screening The Same Difference, Cinema Politica will also screen Pariah. Directed by Dee Rees, Pariah tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a 17-year-old girl coming to terms with her sexual identity. The film, which portrays her tense relationship with her mother, who refuses to acknowledge that her daughter is a lesbian, won the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. This is the first time Cinema Politica will screen a documentary and a fiction film at the same time.

The Same Difference and Pariah will be screened in H-110 on Monday, Feb. 13, starting at 7 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

 

About Tiffany Lafleur