Director Channsin Berry isn’t one to shy away from controversial subject matters. With his critically acclaimed documentary Dark Girls, Berry nudged open the floodgates to a conversation about colorism in black communities.
Dark Girls spurred furious social media discussions, a bevy of think pieces, and put an issue that has long roiled black communities at the forefront of many people’s consciousness.
Four years after Dark Girls‘ debut, the Newark native is asking another set of questions, this time about the black church, that will almost certainly trigger another set of intense discussions. But Berry hopes that these conversations do more than bring these issues to the forefront. He hopes that alongside awareness comes healing.
“In my films, I like to talk about things that black people don’t want to talk about. Things that they go hush-hush about. I believe that those are the things we need to discuss to heal as a people.”
In Berry’s upcoming documentary, the director focuses his lens on sexuality in the black church. For Berry, the term “sexuality” encompasses more than sexual orientation and the church’s relationship to the LGBT community and issues. Berry also explores the church’s long-standing patriarchal system and the double standards that follow. The Church House: Sexuality in The Black Church is the fruit of that exploration.
“The reason I decided I wanted to do this documentary is because I had heard so many stories about what was going on in the black church, and I got tired of it,” said Berry. “I wanted to know where the black church stood on sexuality and sex.”
One of the stories Berry referenced was the infamous one of Reverend Eddie Long, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, who was accused of sleeping with underage members of his congregation.
“I have children of my own, and if I can’t trust that they are safe in the church, then what can I trust?” lamented Berry. “We need to talk about sex. When we act like sex is not a natural part of our lives, that’s when bad things happen.”
The Newark native, who was raised in the black church himself, recognizes the church’s integral role in the lives of many black people and families, but with this film, Berry urges church leaders and the church establishment to reevaluate the way they discuss sex and sexuality in their congregations.
“The black church is so many things to so many different families: it is a place of refuge, a place of service, and a place of peace. But we need to have open and honest conversations about what’s going on in the church,” said Berry.
“That’s what I tried to do with this documentary. For example, I had to ask: why do women make up a majority of the church’s population, but they are often never invited up to the pulpit? I wanted to understand what it meant to be a black woman in a black church,” he continued.
Vesta Godwin, director of the St. James Social Service Corporation, said she knew the film would not be without controversy. “A film such as The Church House may ruffle quite a few feathers in the religious community,” she said. “Sexuality in the church has long been a taboo subject, which Mr. Berry is making a bold statement about by bringing many of the truths to light. It is will definitely spark conversations amongst those who see it, and those who have heard about it.”
In collaboration with the St. James Social Service Corporation, Berry has organized the Newark premiere of the documentary at the Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers-Newark in the coming week. As the 57-year-old gears up for his hometown debut, his lofty hopes for a breakthrough in the black church are at the forefront of his mind and message.
“What I want people to walk away from with this movie is to notice that there is an issue in the black church, and hopefully that will spawn conversation and, in turn, action can be taken,” Berry said. “I want us to find a way that we can heal the relationships in the black church and heal ourselves in the process.”
The Church House will screen at the Paul Robeson Campus Center on September 28 at 6:30 p.m. For tickets visit EventBrite or call 973-624-4007.