Marlon Riggs' Toungues Untied

Curated by Evan Garza
Part of the Featured Fridays Series, sponsored by SCRUFF
Co-presented with VisualAIDS

Tongues Untied
Marlon Riggs,1989, 55 min
Tongues Untied is a film essay by Marlon Riggs, a Texas-born African American poet, filmmaker, educator, and gay rights activist. The film, which Riggs describes as his legacy, celebrates black men loving black men as a revolutionary act. The film, which features spoken word and poetry by Riggs and poet Essex Hemphill, is an artful visual statement about the queer black male experience and embraces authentic and radical notions of black gay identity and positivity. Riggs was diagnosed with HIV while making the film, and later died of AIDS-related causes in 1994.

Historian George Chauncey notes that in the 1920s, “Although Greenwich Village’s gay enclave was the most famous in the city, even most white gay men thought gay life was livelier and more open in Harlem than in the Village.” Its Prohibition-era gay-oriented clubs, mixing among black and white, straight and gay, featured queer performers such as Gladys Bentley. When Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) decided to open a non-profit cinema, he chose Harlem specifically to serve a community without direct access to independent cinema. The Maysles Cinema – the only independent cinema north of Lincoln Center – is committed to creating a democratic space that provides educational outreach to the local community as well as pay-what-you-can screenings. It is located near the site of the gay club Lulu Belle, where, according to Chauncey, “thirty men were arrested for wearing drag” over a two week period in 1928.