Film/DVD

Gay and Black and Homophobia and Racism

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‘Tongues Untied’ at 20
By Aaron Coleman. 

Riggs
Marlon T. Riggs films a Pride parade

Tongues Untied is the late Marlon Riggs’ acclaimed and award-winning documentary film, now on DVD, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film’s production. It tells the story of racism and homophobia and the rites of passage of gay black men in America, through images, narration, and the eloquent and poignant poetry of Riggs’ collaborator, the late Essex Hemphill.

In the film, a college student is depicted left bleeding on the sidewalk after a gay bashing, and a drag queen ponders feelings of loneliness and isolation. Riggs explores the transition from his early “gay initiations” (coming out to the white gay world of San Francisco in the ’80s) to years later with his self-awareness and pride as a gay black man in America.

Tongues Untied could have been a stage production for its use of theatrics, dance, movement, and lighting. Controversial in its concept, the film occasionally employs nudity as art, with a backdrop of music from Billie Holiday to disco.

There is a sequence dedicated to “snap,” the visible and enigmatic language of “snap divas,” who, when there are no words to express immediate and passionate emotion, use it to illustrate a point. “Snap” was introduced into popular culture through a reoccurring segment on the hit television show, In Living Color. The snap segment alone is worth the price of the DVD.

RiggsandHemphill
Riggs and poet Essex Hemphill

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, wrote, “A black male warrior fighting for the right to love other black men, Marlon Riggs affirms what was nearly lost, newly found: the certainty that black male lives are utterly precious.”

The Tongues Untied DVD contains numerous special features, including a 1991 interview with director Marlon Riggs, and interviews with filmmaker Isaac Julien, AIDS activist Phill Wilson, spoken word and rap artist Juba Kalamka, and cultural critic Herman Gray. From Frameline (www.frameline.org).

Photo captions: Marlon T. Riggs has his eyes on a Pride parade in the photo, and goes shirtless with poet Essex Hemphill (r), who is featured in Riggs’ award-winning documentaryTongues Untied. The DVD includes an interview with Riggs, among many others.

Tongues Untied is the late Marlon Riggs’ acclaimed and award-winning documentary film, now on DVD, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film’s production. It tells the story of racism and homophobia and the rites of passage of gay black men in America, through images, narration, and the eloquent and poignant poetry of Riggs’ collaborator, the late Essex Hemphill.

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