Tongues Untied explores a diverse range of issues relating to gay black men in particular in the late 80′s. The unique perspective of the film is highlighted by the emphasis on speech and silence as the main themes to challenge identities and perception.
The making of the film includes the acclaimed poet Essex Hemphill delivering his poetry, Riggs recounting stories from his childhood, men in dance, as well as comic clips such as the visit to the eye-brow raising “Institute of Snap!thology”. The film details Riggs’ own personal experiences that include when he realized he was gay and the grief from losing many friends to AIDS disease.
The documentary merges documented clips, personal experiences and fiction to try and create a definitive identity of black gay men. The film also sought to challenge TV’s general bowing down to conformity that was evident in late 80s and early 90s, and issues a critique on racism and homophobia as these weave in modern-day sexual politics. Tongues Untied ends by showing obituaries of those who died from AIDS and archival material of the civil rights movement and film of Black men parading in a gay pride parade.
“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.”
— Alice Walker
“The film’s meditation on what it means to be black and gay in America is candid, provocative and original and speaks to the perseverance of the human spirit. Teachers and students interested in race, class, gender, sexuality and HIV/AIDS must have Tongues Untied.”
— E. Patrick Johnson, Northwestern University
“One of the most significant documentaries in the last 30 years, still unique in its often overwhelming performative power. It is an intensely personal and moving work that merits inclusion in any library collection”
— Gary Handman, Director, University of California-Berkeley
Did You Know?
The reception of Tongues Untied was not without controversy. Then Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is said to have called the documentary an example of how President George H. W. Bush using public money to fund “pornographic art”. The director’s intention on making the film, in his own words, was to “…shatter the nation’s brutalizing silence on matters of sexual and racial difference.” Review our Gay Themed Films Here