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 29 2008 11:00 PM ET

You're from Chicago. Did you have expectations
about how the film would play to LGBT people here?
You know, I don't know. I haven't been gay in the city
for over 30 years. I left for New York when I was 18,
and I came back a couple of times, but I have no idea
what the gay culture is like here. I'm from the south
side; I was a little butch queen running around the south
side of Chicago being fabulous. So I really don't know
anything about the culture here now.

Unfortunately, I
remember when I was growing up here that the gay
community was really segregated. I don't know if
that’s still the case. New York is not much
better, but it’s a little bit better. I just hope
that the film brings to light the issues that LGBT people of
color face, especially young people. The main thing is
I hope the film will incite service. Because the thing
I lacked growing up was good role models. It’s
so cliché, but it’s so true. It wasn't until I
was out of college at 23 and moved to New York that I
actually found some mentors. I called them my moms and
my dads -- they raised me. They taught me to be careful, to
excel. I have to credit those people.

Some people reading this will still be hearing of
Sakia Gunn for the first time. What do you want them to
know about her?
She was a 15-year-old kid. The glory of what I
was trying to do is black, white, gay, or straight,
she was a 15-year-old kid.

This film really lends a voice to Sakia Gunn's
loved ones. What does the voice of the film say?
[The point of the film is] really to see us.
There’s the black community and there’s
the gay community; they have this discourse, and like,
LGBT people of color don't exist. We're like in this
crevasse. Our communities are always bickering back
and forth, and that’s a dangerous and
dysfunctional argument. So I want to bring us up out of that
crevasse and be a part of that conversation. Because
it doesn't help anybody if people are competing to be
the most depressed. It just doesn't work. We should be
coalition-building.

Can you describe what it was like filming inside
the courtroom?
First of all, I had never been in a courtroom
dealing with anything other than landlord and tenant
rights or human rights or something like that, because
I come from an activist background. So to be in a courtroom
dealing with a murder -- the contempt, the confusion, the
pain ... it was palpable. It was just thick with
angst. It was unfortunate because
[McCullough’s] family sat on one side and
Sakia’s family sat on one side, and there were
a fair amount of glares coming from one side.
[Sakia’s best friend] Valencia’s
family was actually very forgiving. The other side, I
think they simply don't get it. I think they weren't
remorseful; they were very recalcitrant, actually.

Was the Gunn family ever reluctant to have you film
the hearing’s proceedings? Did they require any convincing?
When I first talked to them, it was interesting. I just
did it as a cold call. I just went to Newark and
basically Googled "Gunn." Her family was very
receptive. After all, I was that kid. I wanted to do a
loving tribute as well as get that message out. Now they
call me their brother, and they, you know, harass me
on the phone. I'm a part of their family, and
it’s great.

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