TW: Sexual Assault
“Negro faggotry is the rage! Gay black men are not.
Spike Lee and others like him count on the complicit silence of those who know better, who know the truth of their own lives as well as the diverse truths which inform the total black experience.
Notice is served.
Our silence has ended.
SNAP!” – Marlon Riggs
I’ll start by saying that I love Marlon Riggs. I think his work documented a very important moment in Black queer history. The work he did in Tongues Untied as well as others, such as Black Is… Black Ain’t, illuminates the intersections of blackness, manhood, and queerness in a way that has not often been done on film. Riggs is able to share his own personal history in a way that allows the audience to get a better understanding of black gay life in the late 80s and early 90s.
Tongues Untied was so refreshing for me to watch. Most of what made this film so enthralling for me was that it actually took the time to portray black queer people in a nuanced way. Black gay men could be more than just the flamboyant hairdresser that got two seconds of airtime in a movie. Riggs reminds us that black queer people deserve to be more than just the butt of a homophobic joke. In my opinion, Riggs most clearly makes this point by choosing to include an excerpt from Essex Hemphill’s well-known essay, ‘Without Comment’:
“”I am a 45-year-old-Black-gay-man, who enjoys taking dick in his rectum.” SNAP! “I am not your bitch!” SNAP! “Your bitch is at home with your kids!” SNAP! SNAP!”
In this moment, Riggs and Hemphill take a lighthearted approach to pushing back on the idea that gay identity negates a person’s blackness or manhood.
The theme that I found most poignant in Tongues Untied is that of the power of black gay love. I think this is a theme that Riggs highlights throughout Tongues Untied. The film asserts this powerful message:
In the end, my opinion is that Tongues Untied served as a much-needed intervention into the heterosexist-misogynistic narrative of manhood and masculinity that we’ve seen this semester, as well as in the patriarchal/homophobic movie industry in general.