This weekend, the groundbreaking new documentary Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn, which focuses on modern American politics, will premiere at OutFest Fusion in Los Angeles.
“When people close their eyes and say, Senator, a picture of me does not come up in their head, and that’s the problem, right?” the trailer for the film opens.
Part love story and part political thriller, the documentary follows Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta’s historic election campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022.
As a Black gay man preparing for a position as illustrious as the Senate, the film examines the obstacles non-white candidates face. In addition, it addresses electability and its relationship with endorsements, fundraising, and media coverage.
“When you know what it’s like to be marginalized and treated unfairly simply because of who you are, I think you make a better legislator,” Kenyatta says during one scene in the film.
Kenyatta, 32, burst onto the political scene in 2018 and became prominent nationally when he stood in the way of Republicans’ attempts to perpetuate the false notion that the 2020 election was stolen from former president Donald Trump.
As one of 20 electors from Pennsylvania chosen to cast a vote in the Electoral College for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the electoral college, Kenyatta vociferously defended his right to be heard and rejected the conspiracy theories put for by Republicans. His vocal opposition to attempted shenanigans garnered him much national media attention. In February 2021, he announced his candidacy for Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat.
Tim Harris, the film’s director, has known Kenyatta for many years, returning to their time as college students at Temple University. He tells The Advocate that it’s equal parts impressive and surreal to have had the opportunity to document an acquantance’s political adventure.
“I was working on a student-run TV show called Temple Smash, which is Temple’s version of SNL,” Harris says. “And Malcolm was a host of one of the episodes. He had become fairly well known for doing poetry around campus but also being, you know, an activist at that point. “
He says he kept in touch with Kenyatta after graduation, and after they both lived in Philadelphia, where Kenyatta was involved in activism, he wanted to follow Kenyatta’s career, first shooting a short documentary about Kenyatta’s 2018 state office campaign.
Seeing Kenyatta on MSNBC and other networks in 2020, he approached him again with the idea of documenting the campaign, which turned into this film.
Despite Kenyatta rising star and growing name recognition — former president Barack Obama said with Kenyata’s election to the state legislature, “things have changed, having a brother in the state legislature with that haircut, that’s a change,” — he says he found it difficult to break through and gain household name recognition, which he ultimately blames for the failure of his campaign.
In battling the opposition, the self-described “poor, Black, and gay kid from North Philly” found he was up against more than his political competition. He was taking on the entire system as well.
Kenyatta and the producers of the documentary hope that audiences will appreciate the film’s message and that they will resonate with the material.
“In a time when a world is full of political cowards making laws to shut down or even kill our LGBTQ community, Malcolm is one of the bravest people I know,” executive producer and CEO of Xpedition Films Hunter Johnson tells The Advocate. “There is a great scene in the film when Malcolm is talking with a student and speaking about bravery being contagious. Our hope in making this film is that bravery will catch on, and more people will stand up.”
Kenyattaacknowledged the real threats to the community but highlighted the successes of LGBTQ individuals in politics and encouraged continued activism and engagement.
“I hope that [the film] feels like what this campaign was, which was a real love letter to Pennsylvania, and to all the people in our great Commonwealth and around the world who know what it means to be left out, left behind, counted out and ignored,” Kenyatta tells The Advocate.
He says that although he came up short in his Senate race, he hopes the film tells a story that needs to be told.
“I hope it elevates the issues and conversations that need to be had,” he says. “In so many ways, I felt like a winner, particularly in terms of the LGBTQ folks I meet, and my husband meets on an almost daily basis who say, ‘you know, I feel like I can because you did.’”
Kenyatta emphasized the importance of Democrats supporting each other and working towards building a government that works for working people. At the forefront, he says, is to ensure the proper representation of all people across every facet of American life.
“There was not an openly gay Black person that I ever imagined being on TV or politically engaged when I was growing up,” Kenyatta explains. “So we were traversing this path that no one had gone down before. And when you do that, the path is not well laid, but I think we did the first step of laying that path. Hopefully, we continue to see more and more and more LGBTQ folks first and foremost run, but also win.”
Kenyatta also expressed his gratitude for participating in successful campaigns for other candidates and hoped people would learn from his experience through the documentary.
Al Roker Entertainment produced the documentary, and Roker served as executive producer. The Today Show weatherman tells The Advocate the main reason he became involved in the film was to bring stories from various perspectives to viewers that would then allow them to expand their horizons.
“I really do believe that people fear what they don’t know and who they don’t know,” Roker says. “I think the more you can show that we’ve got so much more in common when you boil it down if you strip away all the catchphrases, I think on a personal basis, we feel differently about people and are more open to understanding them.”
“This was a story about breaking barriers, about moving into people who would have never thought about running for office not so long ago,” Roker adds.
Roker agrees that money is absolutely in control of modern politics, but he says that he believes that with the right candidate and the right social media platform, and the right message, anything is possible.
“In Malcolm’s case and in other politicians’ cases who have run grassroots campaigns and have been authentic and have been real, I think that in some cases does overcome money advantages if you have a message that resonates with people,” he says.
Roker has a message for anybody, particularly young Black or queer people, who might be mulling their political campaign.
“You just have to go out and do it,” Roker says. “Nobody wins by sitting on the sidelines. And guess what? You may not win, but you will have learned something about yourself. You will have learned something about your fellow Americans, and I think both will be better for it.”
Roker shares, “And if you have a message — and this is what I firmly believe — I think if you have a message of positivity and inclusion and what you want to do — not tearing down somebody else — what will you do? I think America’s ready for that. I think America’s hungry for that. On both sides.”
The film’s U.S. premiere is Saturday at OutFest Fusion at the Hollywood TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, with tickets still available. The event will feature a moderated panel moderated by acclaimed director Lee Daniels, with Kenyatta; Kenyatta’s husband, Matthew Jordan-Miller Kenyatta; Roker and Harris.
Watch the trailer for Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn below.
Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn | Official Trailerwww.youtube.com