**Updated Info Below**
One of the perks working at the Ann Arbor District Library was having an unlimited amount of time to check out materials. I abused that policy. Especially with DVD’s. Marlon Riggs‘s film Black Is Black Ain’t stayed on my work desk for about a month. I accidentally discovered the film shelving a documentary. The cover caught me. I flipped it over to the back. The description read:
BLACK IS… BLACK AIN’T is an unabashedly frank look at black identity in America. In his final project before losing his battle with AIDS, acclaimed director Marlon Riggs challenges the traditional definition of blackness while issuing a ringing call to African-Americans to celebrate diversity within the community.
A powerful and intelligent critique of racism, sexism, and homophobia, the film trains a bright spotlight on the exclusiveness and rigidity of the black institutions of family, church, and community.
Winner of the Sundance Film Festival‘s Director’s Trophy, BLACK IS… BLACK AIN’T is embracing and at moments mystical.
Black Is Black Ain’t shows there isn’t one Black experience. Intermixed with commentary from Bill T. Jones, Essex Hemphill, bell hooks, Cornel West, and Angela Davis is an un-tutorial on creole cooking and Riggs tied to machines battling AIDS and shots of Riggs running naked in the woods. His running in the woods naked represents vulnerability and “yearning to break free of confining notions of identity into an open, inclusive embrace of all that black is,” according to Riggs. The reoccurring “motif reinforces the underlying point of the film.”
Cover of Tongues Untied
One of the best moments of the film for me was discovering Essex Hemphill. Hemphill was a black gay poet and activist best known for his book, Ceremonies. Ceremonies addressed “the sexual objectification of black men in white culture.” Hemphill reads his poem, I Cannot Come Home As I Am, which talks about his relationship between him and his father and the distance that being black and gay can force in
between families. His voice still follows me around. Lines from his poems tied in the gay/black experience to the black experience.
Our deadliest weapon
We both use it.
Riggs asks, “if people are like gumbo, then what is the roux, that special ingredient that binds and gives everything its unique flavor? Riggs refuses to tell us; he keeps his recipe for roux secret.” “Like gumbo, black communities are made up of many contrasting ingredients. Riggs asks us to reject the idea of a single model of blackness and accept and value black America as an inclusive and dynamic world.”
Riggs died the film was completed. Black Is… Black Ain’t was completed by his co-producer Nicole Atkinson and editor/co-director Christiane Badgely from footage and notes Riggs left behind.
Rigg’s second major work, Tongues Untied (58 min, 1989), shot him into the public funding of the arts debate. “Though acclaimed by critics and awarded film festival prizes, its broadcast by the PBS series P.O.V. was immediately pounced upon by the Religious Right as a symbol of everything wrong with public funding for art and culture, particularly culture outside the mainstream,” according to Larry Adelman, co-director of California Newsreel, the country’s oldest non-profit documentary production and distribution center.
A special screening of Tongues Untied is being held at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. There’s also a panel discussion (not sure if it’s before or after)
Description: This special screening of Marlon Riggs’ 1989 film revisits the relationships of gay Black men 22 years later. How have Black lives and love among African American men changed since the release of the Riggs’ film? What can we learn from history and current generations about love in the Black community not just among gay men, but among all Black men? What can we learn about relationships between Black men and other gay men of color?
Location: GLBT History Museum, at 4127 18th St. in the Castro District
Phone Number: 415.777.5455.
Price: $5.00. Admission to the museum is $5.00; there’s no extra charge for the film program.
The GLBT History Museum was recently in the news when Britney Spears visited making the museum her first stop on her lightning tour of the Castro on Sunday, March 27 (the footage aired on ABC’s Good Morning America and can be seen on ABC).
The archives, reading room and offices of the GLBT Historical Society, the parent organization for the museum, are at 657 Mission St. in San Francisco.