Making Sweet Tea is an experimental/ethnographic film based on oral histories of and a stage play about black gay men of the South. The film combines footage from the rehearsal process and theater productions with interactions between the actor/researcher and the research subjects in their homes and communities.
Making Sweet Tea, a feature-length experimental/ethnographic documentary, examines questions of identity and community in contemporary southern society. It follows the personal and scholarly journey of researcher and activist E. Patrick Johnson, the first black man from his small town of Hickory, North Carolina, to earn a PhD, back to the South of his childhood. As someone who has documented his own coming-out story, Johnson seeks to understand the many different experiences of black gay men from the South and to share their stories with audiences through both scholarly and artistic means--through a scholarly book and a play. This ethnographic film combines oral histories from the book and footage from the rehearsal and production of the play with documentary moments from the lives of both Johnson and his interview participants, depicting both his research process and the complexities of his relationships with the men in his study. The film, much like Johnson’s work itself, attempts to transcend conventional assumptions about what counts as “scholarship”—and to re-imagine how such scholarship can/should be shared. How do we represent portions of other people’s life stories? How do those stories impact us as researchers and viewers? What does it even mean to blur the boundaries between art and social science, scholarship and activism, and what’s to be gained from doing so? Sweet Tea, the film, attempts to place these interconnected themes and questions in critical and creative conversation.