A time for tears and remembrance


006/365: Looking to the Light
006/365: Looking to the Light (Photo credit: malik ml williams)
Tongues Untied
Tongues Untied (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just finished watching Black Is…Black Ain’t a journey into Black identity by black  filmmaker Marlon Riggs who died in 1994 as it was being completed. I loved Marlon as I would my brother and indeed he was born in 1957 when I was already 6 years old. I learned so much from Marlon through his movies about Blackness and inclusiveness it is impossible to imagine what I would have done without him. I recommend his movies Color Adjustment and Tongues Untied.

The movie is relentlessly honest in examining memory, sexism, homophobia, religion, masculinity and running fiercely. It asks questions we have asked of ourselves: are you black enough, what makes us black and can you be black in the suburbs while it forces you to confront the reality of Marlon’s death. His was a world of T-cells, losing weight, running aimless and naked through a forest and being interviewed while being confined to a hospital bed.

Marlon speaks of communion through the words of bell hooks, a noted African-American feminist author. This communion is not to flatten out our difference, but rather reclaims and celebrates those who were cast out because they did not fit an earlier vision of blackness. Bayard Rustin, a leading organizer of the March on Washington with Dr. King, was cast out because he was a gay male. The movie included several interviews with Black gays and lesbians in addition to commentaries about some of the hyper-masculinity  in popular culture. The purpose was to make us conscious of our need to communicate with one another.

Blackness is not about having sex with as many women as possible, it is not about rejecting same-sex couples or excluding people because they have different beliefs about religion or even reject religion altogether. To me, Blackness is about the Louisiana gumbo that serves as a metaphor throughout the movie. It is about love, self-respect and continuing to strive for our personal goals in the light of how our values reflect upon our community.

I close with a line from the movie: If we must die on the frontlines, don’t let loneliness kill us. Rest in peace, Marlon, the dream continues.

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One thought on “A time for tears and remembrance

  1. I may just check this out, the only black cinema that I know is what you would probably call mainstream “blacksploitation” or some of the black comedy movies that came out in the 90’s (either I didn’t get it, or they were just truly horrible.) This actually looks interesting.

    I was thinking about the subject of “blackness” two days ago, the pressure for black men to be a certain way. This of course after watching Django, the portrayl of the black man in cinema is pretty skewed; I’m not sure I’m getting anywhere with this, but stay with me. It seems like the on-screen ratio of black men blowing stuff up, shooting stuff up, selling smack, being bad cops VS black men asserting intelligence is pretty damn slanted.

    How does a young sensitive black boy grow up to be an intelligent sensitive black man? The pressure must be enormous to be, as you called it, blacker.

    I think back to three black kids (back then) in high school, one was a really talented artist, a sensitive kid who was always catching shit from the other black guys for dressing a little differently from them (he was a comic book guy, dressed really funky) didn’t walk with a swagger and was well spoken. He was pretty ostracized, I think he got into comic book illustration, I hope he’s making millions and is happy.

    Another, he was big into lit and science, this kid was really intelligent but again, he was ostracized (I recall a comment that “he wasn’t black enough”). I hope he made it, we’re talking MIT quality intelligence here.

    The last one, he was destined to represent Canada in the Olympics (gymnast). This kid got into drugs, fell for the bullshit and god only knows where he is now.

    Anyway, I can’t say that I understand it, I’m not black and didn’t feel that pressure growing up. But being outside the culture I’ve often said to myself (pardon me if I’m out of line) that the black man has been lied to for so long, he’s lost grasp of who he is.

    Like

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