"Black Men Loving," Empowering New Documentary About Black Fatherhood, Puts Face to Gay Black Parenting
“I want to get married!” says 4-year-old Malaki, throwing himself backwards across the laps of his dads Michael Went and Doug Kerr in a scene from the documentary "Black Men Loving." The couple are discussing their own 2008 nuptials, and their adopted son wants in.
“He sees that Daddy Doug and Daddy Mike have rings and he says, Why don’t I have one?” Went says today, sitting in front of the fireplace at Gays With Kids founder Brian Rosenberg’s Toronto home. In a bit of a parenting power play, Went suggested a choice between a ring and a piece of cake and, voilà, Malaki has now delayed his wedding indefinitely.
That Malaki, who is biracial, looks up to not one but two dads (Daddy Doug is white and Daddy Mike is black) who are as committed to him as they are to each other, is the antithesis of the experience black children are expected to have, Went says. “Our storyline of black fatherhood is of low expectation,” he says. “There will be absence, there will be distance.”
"Black Men Loving," playing at the Regent Park Film Festival in Toronto, casts its net wider in its depiction of black fatherhood. Take the man who is teaching his daughter an Afrocentric curriculum after she expressed interest in being homeschooled, or the father who is filmed fixing the pink scrunchies in his 18-month-old daughter’s hair.
“Not everyone was a good news story, they are just at the good news place of their journey,” says director Ella Cooper. “One man was into dealing drugs and has cleaned up his lifestyle. By no means was he an exemplary dad. They are different men who represent different experiences. But each person has really been the change they want to see in the world.”
The Festival approached Cooper with the idea to spotlight black fatherhood, an idea she explores through the "Black Daddies Club," a Toronto-based community support group where black men discuss fatherhood in a culturally specific context.
It was important for Cooper to include Went, a senior municipal financial advisor with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, to show, as she says, that parenthood looks like many different things today. "It’s really refreshing to see positive gay couples in the media.”
Went hopes his participation inspires other black gay men to see their own potential as fathers, especially as Children’s Aid Societies in and around Toronto prioritize adoptions that match children with parents who share their cultural background.
“I never knew anyone who was a gay black parent,” Went says. “I knew people who were gay black fill-in-the-blank: banker, hairdresser, athlete, etc. etc. But a gay black dad? It never crossed my mind. And even if it had, it wasn’t me.”
Before he adopted Malaki, he doubted his own instinct for parenting. “I’ve learned along the way thanks to trial by fire,” he says. “And I’ve realized I have some skills that are helpful. I can sing a tune. I’d forgotten! And I like building train sets, gosh darn it. You can do more than you think you can.”
"Black Men Loving" plays Thursday, November 20 at 9:15 p.m. as part of the Short Gains program and also Sunday, November 23 at 2:45 p.m. Free childcare provided. See Regent Park Film Festival for more details.