Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tongues Untied (1989)

Tongues Untied is about difference and diversity. The documentary was created in 1989 by Marlon Riggs to capture the voices of African American gay men. Its title is illustrative of a path of least resistance that the poets, artists, and activists in this film take to resist homophobia. For example, this quote is chanted to call attention to oppression: “Anger unvented becomes pain unspoken becomes rage released becomes violence.” This film addresses the theories of masculinity we have discussed in class by disrupting stereotypes for black masculinity.

Tongues Untied illustrates a more in-depth view on sexuality, violence, hypermasculinity, religion, homophobia and class within African American gender constructs. Despite the stereotypes and stigmas that oppress African American gay men, this film provides a message for empowerment. According to Kivel, “Even though they have all the normal human feelings of love, excitement, sadness, confusion, anger, curiosity, pain, frustration, humiliation, shame, grief, resentment, loneliness, low self worth, and self-doubt, they are taught to hide the feelings and appear to be tough and in control (Kivel 83).” Tongues Untied is an intimate portrayal of black gay men’s experiences. By resisting the implications of silence this film breaks the “Act Like a Man box."

The oppression of Black gay men is discussed through poetry, a memoir of a drag queen, erotica, and an expose’ of homophobia in the black church. Tongues untied, black gay activists speak of their pain with passion, purpose, and sensitivity. I really want to connect this theme from the documentary to Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic.” “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” Essentially, the erotic is power. It is the poetry, and activism expressed in this documentary.

Tongues Untied is almost a historical film- just because of its age, and not because it is infamous. James Baldwin once said that “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill are leaders in the black gay liberation movement promoted by Tongues Untied. Like many other black gay activists from that generation, they died battling HIV way too soon. Now, while persons are living longer with the virus and our social politics are less racist and the groundwork for black queer liberation is already laid in this film, what does our generation’s activism look like? Racism and homophobia are still impacting the experiences of black gay men; and silence is still not the solution. I wonder if these changes in America mark a shift or a resurgence of radical activism in the human rights movement?

Essentially, Tongues Untied is empowering because Riggs provides a platform for queering and expanding discussions about masculine constructs. In other words, grown black men who love grown black men are allowed to negotiate identity with creativity and power. By promoting a message of self-love, Tongues Untied is a pro-feminist approach to the silence about homophobia. Scenes from the Civil Rights movement, side by side, to black gay activism artistically conclude the documentary’s call to activism. To take a quote from the footage, “Black men loving black men is a revolutionary act.” In other words, the personal is political and the act of love changes the interaction of African American gay men and their internalized oppressions.

Works Cited
Kivel, Paul. “The Act Like a Man Box.” Kimmel, Michael S. and Michael A. Messner Men's Lives. Eighth Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, 2010
Lorde, Audre. "The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power." (1984). Print.
Tongues Untied. Perf. Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphil. 1989. Videocassette

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