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'You Saved Me': Film celebrates black marriage and challenges perceptions

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2010; E10

Ronnie and Lamar Tyler were always surprised by the way people around them would react to news of an engagement.

"We'd be at somebody's house," Lamar recalls, "and someone would come in and say, 'Hey, I'm getting married!' and everybody would be like, 'Don't do it. Are you sure you want to do that? Don't make the mistake I made.' And that's supposed to be a happy moment!"

The problem, as the Tylers saw it, was largely one of perception.

"We felt like through television, movies, Web sites -- there weren't enough positive images of black marriages," Lamar says. "There are so many African American youths growing up in communities now where they're not seeing marriages around them at all -- they're not seeing the good things, the positive side and what a good relationship could look like."

So in 2007, the Waldorf couple, who've been married for five years and are parents of four, including two children Ronnie had before they wed, created a blog, http://www.blackandmarriedwithkids.com. The idea was to establish a venue where people could discuss the issue, at a societal level and a personal one.

"I knew plenty of great couples, but you never hear their stories, you never see them -- it's almost like a class of people who don't exist," says Lamar, a 33-year-old IT professional. The blog was meant to "just shine a positive light on marriage and show there are happily married African American couples out there."

In the three years since its launch, the blog has attracted a cadre of contributing writers and a loyal following of readers who chime in on topics like conflict resolution, parenting and finances. For their efforts, the Tylers were named one of Essence Magazine's "Power Couples on the Move" last year, putting them in the company of the Obamas and Adrian and Michelle Fenty.

"We never claim to be the experts -- it's just a forum and we just facilitate the conversation," says Ronnie, a 37-year-old project manager. "We throw out a topic and then people will say, 'Well, this is how it worked in our marriage.' It just gives you a different perspective."

Two years ago neither had any experience with a video camera, but when Lamar suggested they have a documentary made about the portrayal of marriage in the African American community, Ronnie proposed doing it themselves. The two bought cameras, trained themselves in editing and released "Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage" last July.

The reactions the couple liked best were from those who said the film had sparked a conversation. "They said, 'Yeah, we talked about it all the way home. We talked about how having two parents or being raised in a single-parent household affected us, and we talked about the Obamas and whether or not they'll have an effect,' " Lamar recalls.

But the Tylers also heard from people who wanted a more intimate perspective on marriage from couples in the thick of it. So on Sunday, which is Black Marriage Day, the Tylers will release their second film, "You Saved Me," which profiles eight couples talking about the impact of marriage on their lives. Some are newlyweds, others the parents of growing families. One couple talks openly about their journey to the brink of divorce, and how they grew to love each other again.

"You Saved Me" will screen at the PG Publick Playhouse in Cheverly at 3 p.m. on Sunday, and at venues in 20 other cities across the nation this weekend.

The Tylers never expected to become part-time marriage gurus, but they believe the success of their site reflects a hunger for substantive dialogue about black marriage.

"And it's added so much to our marriage," Ronnie says. "We learn so much from other people and their experiences -- our marriage is definitely in a different place because of it."

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