Making Sweet Tea documents the scholar and playwright E. Patrick Johnson as he journeys through the country to reconnect with the six black gay men whose stories he captured within his book, and later brought to life on stage, “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South — An Oral History”.
As a black gay man from the South, and the first person in his local community to earn a PhD, E. Patrick Johnson discusses and reflects on the many intersections of his identities and how they each uniquely influence the other. In the face of a history of erasure or repression of stories of and by black, queer, southern people, he compassionately and artistically catalogues, voices, and keeps alive the experiences of his interviewees. Each time E. Patrick Johnson reconnects with a character, they share the experience of making and drinking sweet tea together, a southern tradition that is beautifully and metaphorically woven into the structure of the documentary. Not only does the drink serve as a staple in Southern culture, but “the tea” serves as a staple within queer culture as it refers to the act of sharing gossip, stories, community. Each character animatedly and intimately discusses how it felt to have their stories saved within a book and voiced within a production, and also how it feels to reflect ten years later as they continue to live out their own unique narratives.
Not only is the relationship between E. Patrick Johnson and the characters one of deep kinship, but the range of genuine emotional responses captured, from laughing to crying, to tender sharing about moments in personal relationships, to critical and honest commentary on policy, all reveal the filmmaker’s talent at honoring and trusting the subjects to truly drive the story – their stories. This is a far cry from a perfectly polished talking heads documentary. Rather, it radiates with an authenticity, playfulness, and intimacy that is not only refreshing to watch, but produces a deeply necessary cultural artifact.
– Stu Nolan