Remembering Sakia

Chances are you haven't heard much about Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old lesbian stabbed to death in 2003 in Newark, N.J. -- and it's filmmaker Charles Bennett Brack's mission to change that.

BY Louis Virtel

September 30 2008 12:00 AM ET

Sakia Gunn lived
in Newark, N.J., forging a defiant but ultimately
innocuous teenage existence as an out lesbian. On the night
of May 11, 2003, Gunn and her friends were waiting for
a bus at a Newark street corner when two men
approached and propositioned them from a car. The
girls rebuffed their advances, claiming to be lesbians, but
the two men emerged from the vehicle and initiated a
scuffle. The confrontation evolved violently, and one
of the men, Richard McCullough, pulled a knife on Gunn
before stabbing her in the chest. Valencia Bailey, one of
Gunn’s friends at the scene, flagged down a
motorist to take Gunn to the hospital, where she died
that night.

The
15-year-old’s slaying ignited outrage in Newark, as
LGBT residents lobbied the mayor’s office and
proposed a number of initiatives, including an LGBT
community center. The Advocate and The New
York Times
also ran stories on Gunn's death.
However, reverberations from the crime proved finite,
or at least obscure, as only 21 articles about the murder
were published in newspapers nationwide.
Comparatively, the murder of gay college student
Matthew Shepard in 1998 yielded more than 650
national newspaper stories.

Brooklyn-based
filmmaker Charles Bennett Brack, in his first independent
documentary, Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Film
Project,
takes viewers inside the courtroom with Richard
McCullough, who came forward and pleaded guilty to
aggravated manslaughter. The film focuses on those
close to Gunn, who give tearful, infuriated, and
startlingly articulate insight into their loss. But another
major collective voice of the film, which Brack takes
to Syracuse, N.Y., and San Francisco next, stems
from outside the courtroom -- the activists and
everyday citizens who ponder racism, classicism, and
homophobia within the media and American society.

Such a daunting
list of topics requires filmmaking experience. After
graduating from Antioch College in Ohio, Brack moved to New
York and eventually worked on AIDS-related safety and
prevention films sometimes played for patrons at gay
bars. Working for both the Gay Men's Health Crisis and
the Commission on Human Rights as well as cofounding the
Lavender Light gospel choir helped Brack acquire an
indispensable sense of both community and disjoint
within the gay populace.

Brack showed his
film in Oak Park, Ill.'s St. Martin’s Episcopal
Church, which devotes itself to progressive social
activism, including issues regarding LGBT people of
color. The Advocate caught up with Brack, a
native of Chicago's south side, after the film
screened and its several dozen viewers filtered out of St.
Martin’s. While Brack intends for the film to
strike a chord with viewers, the documentary’s
subject has already provided him with buoyancy and hope in
facing complications in his own varied, often difficult
life.

Tags: film

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