Quick recap: A quasi-documentary about the lives and experiences of black gay men, as told through spoken word and personal stories.
Fun (?) fact: Tongues Untied originally ran on PBS, and was therefore partially funded by the government. As expected, this did not go over very well for conservatives, who called this ‘pornographic art’, which I think sounds kind of nice.
My thoughts: I think this movie, above all others really took me out of my element and made me see a subset of America I had not thought deeply about before: the black gay male. Seeing as I am neither black, nor gay, nor male, I wasn’t too sure how I would react to the documentary, but it ended up being the perfect example of why we watch movies: to experience something new as well as gain empathy for others.
Tongues Untied is a documentary in the sense that it is true experiences of the men involved, but there are no interviews or narration. Instead, most of the words are poems from Marlon Riggs, the director of the film who also appears on screen detailing his experience growing up gay and black. The rhythm of the movie was a little hard to get into at first, mostly because I’m not too familiar with poetry. I warmed up very fast to the concept once I stopped focusing on the words and instead focused on the people and emotions being showcased.
I’m no expert in late 80’s black gay culture, but Riggs seemed to show a full spectrum of men: drag queens, old guys, young guys, muscular guys, ‘sissies’ (a great discussion of this word occurs during a scene when a bunch of men are eating and talking about what they have been called). I loved that Riggs didn’t focus on the names of the men in the documentary because it made it feel like this could be anyone in the role, detailing their situations. The anonymity ended up making the movie feel more personal to me, as if I would recognize someone I knew at any moment.
The most powerful point of the film comes at the end, as the faces of young gay black men who have died of AIDS appear on screen. The theme of silence pops up throughout the poems in Tongues Untied, and refers to the silence men go through in hiding a part of their identity. Reading the obituaries in the film made me aware of how many men were forever silenced by the disease. 4 years after completing this film, Marlon Riggs himself succumbed to the AIDS virus.
Final review: 5/5. Never in a million years would I have watched this on my own, but I am so glad I did.
Up next: Close-Up