Marlon Riggs: Tongues Untied (1990)

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This is the acclaimed account of Black gay life by Emmy Award-winning director Marlon T. Riggs. Using poetry, personal testimony, rap and performance (featuring poet Essex Hemphill and others), Tongues Untied describes the homophobia and racism that confront Black gay men.

The stories are fierce examples of homophobia and racism: the man refused entry to a gay bar because of his color; the college student left bleeding on the sidewalk after a gay-bashing; the loneliness and isolation of the drag queen. Yet they also affirm the black gay male experience: protest marches, smoky bars, “snap diva”, humorous “musicology” and Vogue dancers.

‘My struggle has allowed me to transcend that sense of shame and stigma identified with my being a black gay man. Having come through that fire, they can’t touch me. – Marlon T. Riggs” — Frameline.org

A polemical, avowedly personal video documentary on the American black gay experience. It’s a bit of an ordeal: a barrage of images, newsreel, stories narrated to camera, poetry readings, ‘Vogue’ dance performance, voices and rap, which examines, with savage but poetic candour, those questions of identity, culture, history and self-expression that are most pertinent to black gays and lesbians. Are they gay first, or black first? Why have they little or no voice in the American gay movement? Riggs takes great risks: he challenges and threatens to offend all sensibilities here, gay or straight, black or white, but does so with remarkable composure, humour and positive attitude. At heart, it’s a celebratory film which buzzes with intelligence, unashamed emotion, adrenalin, and that strange tenderness forged in suffering. As a character says in the film: ‘If in America a black is the lowest of the low, what is a gay black?’ Riggs says to black gays: stand up, speak out, tell your story; to others: listen. — Time Out Film Guide

http://www.ubu.com/film/riggs_tongues.html

Marlon Troy Riggs was a gay African-American filmmaker, educator, poet, and gay rights activist. He produced, wrote, and directed several television documentaries, including Ethnic Notions, Tongues Untied, Color Adjustment, and Black Is. . . Black Ain’t. Riggs’ aesthetically innovative and socially provocative films examine past and present representations of race and sexuality in America.