Marlon Riggs’ essay film Tongues Untied gives voice to communities of black gay men, presenting their cultures and perspectives on the world as they confront racism, homophobia, and marginalization. It broke new artistic ground by mixing poetry (by Essex Hemphill and other artists), music, performance and Riggs’ autobiographical revelations. The film was embraced by black gay audiences for its authentic representation of style, and culture, as well its fierce response to oppression. It opened up opportunities for dialogue among and across communities. Tongues Untied has been lauded by critics for its vision and its bold aesthetic advances, and vilified by anti-gay forces who used it to condemn government funding of the arts.It was even denounced from the floor of Congress. “Black men loving Black men is the revolutionary act” is the rallying cry at the film’s end and after more than 20 years, Tongues Untied remains a celebrated vehicle for eloquent self-expression and liberation. (Synopsis from California Newsreel website). (1989, 55 mins, DVD).
Looking for Langston
In this lyrical and poetic consideration of the life of revered Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, award-winning British film-maker Isaac Julien invokes Hughes as a black gay cultural icon, against an impressionistic, atmospheric setting that parallels a Harlem speakeasy of the 1920s with an 80s London nightclub. Extracts from Hughes’ poetry are interwoven with the work of cultural figures from the 1920s and beyond, including black poets Essex Hemphill and Bruce Nugent, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, constructing a lyrical and multilayered narrative. Julien explores the ambiguous sexual subtexts of a period of rich artistic expression, and the enduring cultural significance of these pioneers’ work. Shot in black and white by cinematographer Nina Kellgren, the film combines archival footage with newly staged set pieces, fantasy sequences, and an imagined love story. The result is a beautiful and ultimately celebratory piece about artistic expression and the nature of black gay desire. (Synopsis from filmmaker’s website). (1989, 40 mins, DVD).
Black Cinema House | 7200 S. Kimbark Ave.
This screening is part of the Friday Film Forum, a series presented in conjunction with Professor Jacqueline Stewart’s University of Chicago course, “African American Cinema Since 1970.”