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.
- Doc of the Day: Black Is… Black Ain’t (daysofdocs.com)