Sometimes you watch a film and at the end you realize you had a smile on your face the entire time. This was the case for Nora Gross’s Making Sweet Tea. It is a documentary about the lives over the decades of gay black men living in the South of the United States told through the lens of one man, E. Patrick Johnson.
E. Patrick Johnson is a gay black man from the small town of Hickory, North Carolina who is a performer. He knew what it was like to feel alone and an outcast, so he decided to tell the tale of those who are often ignored/voiceless. He traveled to other places in the South where he interviewed other black gay men about their stories. He compiled them in a book called Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South – An Oral History.
Now he has developed the book into a play, a one man play in which he portrays snippets from the lives of the six black gay men he interviewed. Gross goes with him as he reconnects with the six men in their hometowns in North Carolina, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. All this is captured on film.
All the men’s stories are slightly different as they represent a couple of different generations. While we are learning about their stories we also get insight into E. Patrick Johnson’s. We learn how he feels about himself, his life, his hometown, and his family.
Demonstrates how intertwined life is with the arts. How the arts can portray the human condition like little else can. How it is a way for people to feel seen or heard. How it can educate and connect us. Basically its importance.
We see and hear how being gay, black and male made then question things. Things like their sanity, race, faith, place in society, and even gender. As the men tell Patrick (and the camera) intimate things about their lives and feelings you can sense the trust they have in him. How these men had all bonded during the process of making Sweet Tea.
As we hear their stories we grow to love these men. Feel for what they had to go through and how they all came out on the other side. We might not agree with some of their thoughts or choices, but we do respect them. Love their courage and joie de vivre. Feel connected to them. Love that they allow us to hear their stories and see how they continue to evolve as human beings.