Tongues Untied

Marlon Riggs’ beautiful and bold explication of Black gay male life both pushes against normative representations of Black masculinity while also generating new forms of televisual artistic production. With Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs brings together poetry, performance art, documentary filmmaking, and practices of autobiography/memoir.

In this deeply moving film, Riggs centers his own life experiences of growing up as a Black gay boy in the American South before moving away from home and moving beyond the singular form of documentary film. As Riggs’ consciousness of the complexity of Black gay life and expression expands, so too does the film itself begin to generative unravel into sketches, vignettes, and poetry readings. In this multi-voiced chorus of Black gay male expression, Riggs decenters himself in service of making connections with other Black gay men. Riggs presents this interconnectedness as both life-saving and politically radical.

Parsing through such strained and straining topics as interracial relationships, HIV/AIDS, and heterosexism, Riggs offers up to his viewers a cinematic text that blooms across various subjects, geographical locations, and forms of artistic expression. This films serves as both an archiving of Black gay male life and the generation of new standards of Black queer artistic expression. In both the spoken dialogue and filmic form, Riggs presents that Black men loving Black men is a radical act with world-shaking possibilities. In the end, Riggs insists on beauty and care where others might only seed violence and exclusion. In this way, Riggs creates a film that builds the world he and his peers so desperately needed and deserved.