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87 minutes, 1995 Producer/Director: Marlon Riggs, Co-Producer: Nicole Atkinson, Co-Director/Editor: Christiane Badgley An online FACILITATOR GUIDE is available for this title.
ABOUT THE FILM
Sundance Film Festival, Filmmakers' Trophy International Documentary Association's Distinguished Achievement Award
The final film by filmmaker Marlon Riggs, Black Is...Black Ain't, jumps into the middle of explosive debates over Black identity. Black Is...Black Ain't is a film every African American should see, ponder and discuss.
White Americans have always stereotyped African Americans. But the rigid definitions of "Blackness" that African Americans impose on each other, Riggs claims, have also been devastating. Is there an essential Black identity? Is there a litmus test defining the real Black man and true Black woman?
Riggs uses his grandmother's gumbo as a metaphor for the rich diversity of Black identities. His camera traverses the country, bringing us face to face with Black folks young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban, gay and straight, grappling with the paradox of numerous, often contested definitions of Blackness. Riggs mixes performances by choreographer Bill T. Jones and poet Essex Hemphill with commentary by noted cultural critics Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Cornel West, Michele Wallace, Barbara Smith and Maulana Karenga to create a flavorful stew of personal testimony, music, and history.
While Black Is...Black Ain't rejoices in Black diversity, many speakers bare their pain at having been silenced or excluded because they were perceived as "not Black enough" or conversely "too Black." Black Is...Black Ain't marshals a powerful critique of sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, colorism and cultural nationalism in the Black family, church and other Black institutions. Cornel West concludes, "We've got to conceive of new forms of community. We each have multiple identities and we're moving in and out of various communities at the same time. There is no one grand Black community."
Riggs' own urgent quest for self-definition and community, as a Black gay man dying from AIDS, ties the multiple perspectives together. Hooked up to an IV in his hospital bed, Riggs takes strength for his struggle against AIDS from the continual resilience of the African Americans in the face of overwhelming oppression. As his death nears, he conjures up the image of a Black community nurturing and celebrating the difference and creativity in each one of us.
Funded by ITVS
A controversial figure in public television during his lifetime, Marlon Riggs explored the lives, histories, and stereotypes surrounding African American culture in his critically acclaimed films. In addition to filmmaking, Riggs was an educator at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. Riggs received multiple awards for his work including two Emmys, a George Foster Peabody Award, and a Blue Ribbon at the American Film and Video Festival. Other titles by the producer: Color Adjustment, Ethnic Notions.
"Like Marlon himself, Black Is...Black Ain't is brilliant, thoughtful, undaunted by anticipated criticism, and profoundly salutary to our health. It's a powerful, interesting, riveting film."
"A dense, sizzling, stimulating gumbo of thought and emotion...A fascinating, challenging film."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Riggs' eye turns pain into poetry, ordinary people into prophets. To put it simply: Black Is...Black Ain't is moving and brilliant."
"Riggs couldn't have left a more effective or challenging legacy to the black community...Not just an insightful discussion of black consciousness, but a major contribution to the exploration of how we develop our identities."
"This is a brilliant, stunning, illuminating journey. An absolute must as we make our way to the close of this century."
Bernice Johnson Reagon
"A complex and personal exploration of the multiplicity of black identity. Riggs himself vibrantly addresses the camera from his hospital bed as he is dying of AIDS."
"A remarkably courageous work of art...Riggs shows us a rare type of black heroism. It is profoundly moving."