Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in the LGBT Community

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Marlon Riggs (1906–1987) (Wikimedia Commons)

Marlon Riggs (1957–1994) was a pioneering filmmaker and along with Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill, Melvin Dixon, and others one of the forces behind the black gay cultural renaissance of the l980s. Riggs's 1989 documentary film, Tongues Untied, which aired on PBS, was the first film to unabashedly explore the lives of black gay men. Riggs uses a montage style, threading together poetry, song, dance, and performance to tell his own individual story and the collective stories of black gay men. The film quickly earned Riggs critical acclaim as well as conservative outrage; responding to both, Riggs observed, "for many this was the real outrage of Tongues United, and for many, many more, its principal virtue: the refusal to present an historically disparaged community on bended knee, begging courteously for tidbits of mainstream tolerance. What Tongues instead unapologetically affirms and delivers is a frank, uncensored, uncompromising articulation of an autonomously defined self and social identify. SNAP!" Along with Tongues Untied, Riggs documented the AIDS crisis also in two other documentary films, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret) (1992) and Black Is...Black Ain't, which was released in 1995 after Riggs's death from AIDS-related complications.

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