The online trailer for “A Love Supreme: Black, Queer, and Christian in the South,” an upcoming documentary series following black Christian southern families striving to reconcile religiously instilled anti-LGBTQ beliefs with the immense love they have for their queer family members, begins with an a capella rendition of the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Rev. Brandon Maxwell, one of the film’s subjects. Maxwell’s voice plays over a series of black-and-white images depicting black southern religious expression through the ages, accentuating the timelessness of the hymn’s lyrics: Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father / There is no shadow of turning with Thee / Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not / As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. As the song fades, Maxwell begins depicting his own story of coming out to his pastor uncle, who demanded that Maxwell turn in his minister’s license and inform his own church members that he would no longer be welcome. Maxwell defied his uncle, telling him, “it’s not my choice to sit down or step back. I’m still fully capable, willing and able to be in a relationship with this community.” Along with the confidence and strength of his rebuttal to his uncle, Maxwell also opens up about the pain of his mother’s disapproval of his queerness, recounting a phone call in which she acknowledged the newfound distance between them and confessed that, even though they still spoke regularly, she missed her son. “I didn’t know until she said that how much I did miss my mother. I needed to be strong, I needed to be ‘Okay, I’m gay, it’s good, I’m happy.’ But at the end of the day, that shit hurt.”
Maxwell’s simultaneous display of self-confidence, clarity of spirit and deep vulnerability is representative of the stories told in “A Love Supreme.” Co-directors Katina Parker and the Rev. Kyndra Frazier were inspired to pursue the project after observing the deep and painful divides that developed between many black, queer Christian southerners and their religious families. Frazier explains that her story of coming out is similar to many of those documented in the series, recounting that her family was “not supportive initially nor could they understand why I believed God was OK with my queerness.” A decade later, her family is fully supportive of her, and it is this type of reconciliatory outcome that she and Parker hope to promote in the film. In service to this goal, “A Love Supreme” coincides with an initiative called The Reconciling Families Project, in which in-person trainings and online classes for clergy seeking to create inclusive faith spaces are offered along with workshops and retreats designed to help black LGBTQ people and their families heal from religious trauma.
Although alienation from family is a common experience for many queer people, Frazier and Parker explain that black, queer southern Christians can face a unique and devastatingly deep rupture from their surrounding communities as a result of religious bigotry: “In many black communities, the words ‘church,’ ‘home’ and ‘family’ remain interchangeable. To love the church is to love your family. To leave the church is to become orphaned.” While LGBTQ identities have become more widely accepted in mainstream U.S. American cultures in recent years, many black parents, especially those over the age of 40, have been insulated from this relative embrace of queer identities. One of the most noted aspects of “A Love Supreme” is the empathy Parker and Frazier have for the families of queer southern Christians, even those who may be currently unsupportive toward their queer family members. These families may lack resources and understanding from their surrounding religious community and are often genuinely anguished by the conflict between their religious beliefs and the love they have for their family members. Frazier and Parker believe that the path to healing must have understanding and grace as the foundation, while nonetheless, including depictions of just how much, to use Maxwell’s phrase, “this shit hurts.”
As black, queer southern Christians themselves, both Frazier and Parker have been deeply affected by the people they have interviewed for the film. Frazier states that she has been “deeply moved by the trust and access” granted to herself and Parker by their interviewees, and notes that they were welcomed into many intimate settings like funerals, holidays and birthdays. Parker was particularly moved by Efia and Mrs. Rose, a mother-daughter pair featured on the online “A Love Supreme” trailer. Mrs. Rose, Frazier and Parker share, is a testament to the power and potential of loving parenthood to queer children, and her matter-of-fact acceptance of her daughter’s sexuality is a welcome counterweight to the difficult stories faced by the film’s other subjects: “God gave her to us for a reason, and if this is who she is, I can’t love her any less…He gave her to us.” Parker states that the way Mrs. Rose loved Efia “raised my standard for how I expect my family to love me and how I love others.” Mrs. Rose’s love toward Efia can serve as a guidepost, not just for Parker, but for all the viewers of “A Love Supreme: Black, Queer, and Christian in the South” and the families struggling to support them alike.
“A Love Supreme” is currently in the editing stage of production, which Parker and Frazier hope to wrap up by next spring. Parker and Frazier are seeking contributions for both the completion of the series and the film’s adjacent impact campaign promoting resources, curricula and support for queer, black southern Christians and their families. A trailer, more information and a contribution portal are available online.