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13 March 2008



I saw "Tongues Untied" first in the theaters in Atlanta, as a part of a film festival. I saw it again when Marlon came down to visit us, and we all went out to dance at Loretta's afterwards.

When it was broadcast on TV in Georgia, the state legislature came with a hair's breadth of completely defunding PBS in the state as a reaction. "Tongues Untied" was on the front page of the Atlanta Constitution. I called up Marlon in California to tell him about it, and he asked me to send him a copy of the front section of the paper, which I did.


Oh, and I forgot to mention my reaction. Of course, no movie I have seen before or since so better touched on my experience. It's been years since I saw it, but to this day, I can particularly remember the motif of the heart beating, echoed in the poetry of Essex Hemphill. "This nut might kill us."

When they flashed the pictures of the men who had died of AIDS, I knew at least two of them personally. That was forceful enough. But then, of course, the shocker: Marlon's picture was the last one shown.

And, BTW, when we went to Loretta's, Marlon was such a cutie. If only he had been single and I was his type.

Andrew C

Jim, that's a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

I first saw "Tongues United" when it was broadcast in the sumer (?) of 1991. There was so much drama and controversy over the Mapplethorpe exhibit and the broadcast of this film was creating an even larger backlash. It was exciting to run home, open a bottle of wine and become glued to the television be transfixed by these proud and defiant images of black gay men. Fabulous.

Sitting by my side on the sofas was my lover, Henry, who has since died of AIDS. Such a bittersweet memory. The film was rebroadcast once and then pulled from PBS, at least on WTTW in Chicago.


I've never seen the film but have only heard and read about it. This seems like it will be an interesting comemnt thread, so I'll just enjoy.

For what it's worth, I'm a 45 year old bisexual black man, and thanks Rod for giving some Bow Wow to the young'ns and Marlon Riggs for us old heads. Or maybe it's just the reverse! I'm new to this site and discovered you at the Huffington post. This blog is growing on me, the diversity is wonderful, even though we disagree on politics, but its good to see you don't want an echo chamber!


I believe I saw Tongues Untied at Phil Wilson's Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forums in Los Angeles in 1990 or so. I ordered the video from Frameline. I haven't played it in years. I remember being very excited that a black gay man had created such a hard hitting film about black gay men.

I remember telling some younger black gay men in Chicago that I had a video about black gay men. They couldn't wait to see it. It turns out that they thought they were going to see a porn film. When they realized that Tongues Untied was not a porn flick, they were disapointed and walked out before it was over.

There was a big controversy as to whether Tongues Untied should be shown on public TV in Cincinnati, Ohio. I had told someone on the board of a white gay organization I belonged to at the time that I had the video. I was asked to arrange to take my copy of the video to a local TV station because they had heard about it and didn't know how or where to get a copy. I loaned them my video to copy. Some time later, I was interviewed by the TV station about the content of the video and my views about "public decency". Several days later they showed brief excerpts of the video along with my interview on the evening news. Whether the video should or shoudl not be shown on TV in Cincinnati was a big controversy. It was eventually shown on pubic TV at about 11 pm, if I recall correctly.

People on my job and elsewhere remarked that they had seen me on TV. Most, however, did not comment on the subject matter of my interview. I was quite the fearless black gay activist back then. I wanted to "tell the world" about Tongues Untied.

I had forgotten about the whole experience until your article brought it all back. Thanks for jogging my memory.

Rodney B.

I remember watching it on PBS back in CA. I was actually asked by mother to watch this. She is very progressive and just wanted to know my thoughts on the documentary since it was such big news.

I still remember it to this day. I don't know why there was such and uproar but I thought it was fascinating. My mom and dad watched it as well.

I'm so glad it is now out on DVD. This generation can understand what our generation had to grow thru so they can enjoy a little more freedom/openness than what we had.




I am from Washington, DC and I was part of the leadership of the DC Coalition of Black Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals and that work really rallied me into crazy activism. We marched. We met with politicians. We rallied and put out "THE FIRE THIS TIME," a newsletter. We were always on fire and on point, doing something.

But the thing really sparked me into a new level of activism and acceptance and commitment and love to my brothers and to myself was "TONGUES UNTIED." I saw it in an art house setting, same place I saw "PARIS IS BURNING" some years later.

"TONGUES UNTIED" really changed me because I saw the full breadth of us in that movie--firestarters and catwalkers, activists and artists, quiet spirits and hellraisers alike. I was so overwhelmed by it the first time I saw it. I am from Chocolate City where I see Black folks everyday, but to have been in a room full of black and brown men watching a movie about black and brown men who love men without shame, just reduced me to mush and tears and elevated me to want to be and do more!

I remember having an instant crush on ESSEX "I'M GOING OUT LIKE A F(*&! METEOR" HEMPHILL. Something in his fire just made me want to know him, be him, be around him.

It's so great that this masterpiece is being re-issued and I hope that sans the giveaway, we ALL go out and cop a few copies of it. Keep one for your own treasures. Give one to a family member who thinks that they know what you go through, but YOU KNOW that they really don't understand. Thirdly, give one to a young gay/bisexual brother who is trying to find his way/be himself.

I think that this film, along with others, should begin a National Black Gay Film Library, so that we can really rally around ourselves and show that if we don't tell our own stories, the world will never know.

Thanks, Rod, for always enlarging your territory of things that you note as noteworthy. I know how many young and old, Black and Brown, affluent and financially constrained, members of our Large Family get life on Rod 2.0.

This feature shows exactly why!

Blessings abound,

Mark Norris

Man, this is special for me to hear that this dvd will be available. I have tried and tried several times to purchase to no avail.

I first saw Tongues Untied while I was in a drug rehabilitation called Tarzana Treatment Center. It was a majority gay rehab that housed P.W.A.'s (People with hiv/AIDs). I was part of a group for black gay men and we met once a week. Well, one meeting we watched this movie and this movie gave me purposed and showed me not only the struggles that I could endure but also the goals I could achieve. I seen men who looked like me and thought like me. I was so inspired to see this that I no longer felt like drugs and fast living was the end all to my life. That is the way I USED to think. This film immediately caught my attention when I heard the "N" word used followed by the "F" word. I thought many times who unique I was that I could be called that word by my own communities. I would say this film was the first time I realized that no matter how much I wanted to avoid it, I would have to demonstrate some activism in my life from time to time and that meant being political, which, back then, I didn't even like mentioning the word. Today, I have no problem mentioning the word, nor do I have a problem speaking out against injustice or bigotry. No problem at all. Thank you Marlon Riggs. Your work will not be wasted.


Ryan Canty

I had just entered my freshman year of college, circa Fall 1994.

I remember a guy I met within a month of being on campus--I was just getting adjusted and was a serious mess (18/19 years old, think you can rule the world, yet know NOTHING about life, etc. that was me!)

He invited me and a few other freshmen over to his apartment off campus tow atch a movie he had brought back after visiting his family in South Bronx.

It was Tongues Untied. I don't remember how long it was, nor do I even remember what time it was when we all left. But, I just remember those images--all of those images of black gay men...

Prior to this, I hoped and prayed I would find someone that looked like me/thought like me/loved like me...I knew I was gay when I started college..I just never met anyone black who was gay also..

That movie gave me, as It hought back then, a view into the lives of men who were black and gay and were living life to their utmost fullest...men who were living with HIV/AIDS..men who were just LIVING.

I was and, at times,s till am, in awe of justhow powerful this movie was. It may be one of the few films to accurately and honestly portray black gay life in the US...I just remember our small group talking about the movie, wanting to live in NYC, our host Carlos showing us his latest voguing moves he had learned from "the kids" and was teaching us how to do it...

I just remember a time when I was just defining what it means to be gay for me...and how Tongues Untied was definitely a step in that process...

Very powerful film--one that all people should watch.

Derrick from Philly

Great posts so far, and I know there will be more because this film meant so much to so many.

I believe I saw "Tongues Untied" before it appeared on Channel 12 here in Philly, but when it did come on TV, I had the sense to have the VCR ready to record. I knew it was going to be important to me for a long time. What I didn't know is how much I was going to miss the folks who appeared in the film, and all the black gay folks of that era who were represented in Marlon's tribute. I call it a "tribute" because that was the film's effect for me: showing the diversity, strength, mutual support that you found in so many black gay communities back in the 1980s and before. And an acceptance of diversity. You see all kinds of black gay men in "Tongues Untied"--nobody's made to feel left out or "unacceptable". Sometimes I wonder if Patrick Ian Polk was influenced by "Tongues Untied"--he makes a point of including "all types" of black gay folks in his movies. I like that.

When the "DL culture" took over the black gay world in the 1990s instead of getting depressed (and too drunk), I would turn on the VCR and watch "Tongues Untied", " Looking for Langston" and "Paris Is Burning"-- just to remind me of how much fun and camaraderie there was even after the advent of the AIDS horror, and dealing with the ever present problem of anti-gay violence. We enjoyed each other...well, most the time.

I've said it before: I recognize all the representations of black gay men in "Tongues Untied"; I don't know a damn soul in "The DL Chronicles". But please buy "Chronicles" anyway--I want all black gay filmmakers to make money.


I honestly never saw or even heard of "Tongues United," however as a young 22 year old gay black college student, I would love to watch this to see and learn about all the trail blazers that came before me so that shows like Noah's Arc, DL Chronicles, Dirty Laundry, etc can even be made. They say you need to know where you come from, so learning my gay history would be great.

cacy forgenie

I saw Tongues on PBS when it first aired. I was flipping channels in my livingroom while my mom and my sister were in their respective rooms. I think I was 18 at the time and my family kinda knew about my orientation but it wasn't discussed. in 1991 this seeing Tongues was a shock because I was clueless about black gay men and black gay culture in NYC or any where for that matter. I was pretty much a straight guy among my friends but at home it was a different story. So when I saw tongues, I had the volume down low and I made sure to take notes on the performers so when I left home to go to college I'd know who or what to research in the library.

cacy forgenie

once i got to college it was on, my research, my search for black gay men who sorta looked like me... and for awhile it was Essex Hemphill who held my hand sometimes Langston Hughes.

One of my professors, a black lesbian, was a friend of Hemphill's and I was the one who told her he'd passed from AIDS. They were not on speaking terms when and before he died, this I learned from one of his poems from Ceremonies, his incredible collection of poems, some of which were featured in Tongues. Although I never met Hemphill, I miss him. And Riggs too. They've shaped my consciousness and have helped me along some painful times. I'm still looking for gay black men who sorta look like me and share my experiences. I guess instead of looking I'll have to make my own since Riggs and Hemphill taught me how.

Corey @ I'll Keep You Posted

I LOVE IT ! ! ! I first saw Tongues on PBS here in Cincinnati when it was first broadcast. I was living at home with my parents at the time, but the show aired on a church night, and I had to moderate a program. Anything remotely "gay" I had my father tape for me if I wasn't going to be home, and Tongues Untied was no exception. I couldn't wait to get home that night to see this show, and when I walked in the door, my dad looked at my cock-eyed and said "Boy, WHAT was this". But he said it with a smirk, and I knew I was in for something very interesting, indeed. What I saw was like FIRE !! I kept that VHS tape, and ironically, I recently pulled it out to view it. It's still as powerful as it was "back then"; I still find this film inspiring & poignant. I guess it was from coming out of that era - we soaked up the political & literary output like a HUNGER then, but I never realized how much it influenced me to WANT to be fierce & fearless. The flowers bloom without limit today, but brothas like Essex Hemphill were the pioneers who planted the seeds. Bravo ! ! !


I pre ordered my copy months ago. I can't wait.

Thandiwe Thomas De Shazor

I was about 10 years old when it came on PBS. I just happened to be flipping through the channels on my brand new 13 inch color t.v. I had gotten for getting good grades. I knew immediately that I shouldn't have been watching it and if my parents walked into my room I would get my behind beaten and berated. (They were convinced I had outgrown my "kissing boys phase").
I remember crouching close to the screen, with my hand on the volume button and my heart nearly beating out of my chest. It was the first time I ever saw two men kissing and they were black men too!
He was speaking about being called "faggot" and "uncle Tom" when he was in school in the 70's while I was going through the same thing in the 90's.
Even in the 5th grade, without any exposure to gay men, I knew I wasn't the only one. And if Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill can go through what they did and still end up successful and happy, I knew I could accomplish whatever I wanted as well. This film influenced me tremendously.

Christopher Cushman

This DVD has already been released in Canada.... Awesome extras ...really puts the original film into the context of today....


I saw this on PBS years ago, before the censorship of Public television. I thought it was brilliant and found Marlon Riggs a true inspiration. We need more people like him today. He would have been amazing on the internet.


I saw this on public television in Dallas Texas. I had to turn it off and on because my dad was homophobic. I had thought about not watching it because I had heard that Marlon was into interracial dating. It was so moving I did not care who he loved. It was so wonderful to see images of black men loving and caring about each other. I cried about my ex lover who has since died of HIV. I wish the younger generation knew more about the talented generation of gay black or same gender loving men we have lost to this disease

Arjuna Alvarez

I first saw Tongues Untied on PBS Channel 13 in New York as part of a trilogy of pride documentaries on the Saturday before Heritage Pride day, This was to be my first pride, parade my first time, outside of a club situation, i saw these documentaries, with my parents, and siblings, needless to say tongues untied became our favorite. That monday after pride i ran to the NYPL , to find any book Marlon Riggs, Essex Hemphill et al there was only one Brother to Brother lucky for me it had the names of the contributors and the name of their works like a PI i tracked these books downs(novels, short stories,Poems)until i found myself immersed in a history i knew nothing about, it introduced me to audre lorde, isaac julien, the house and ball scene, asante asoto etc, that was 10 yrs ago it is wonderful to know that another young person will see this DVD and know that has a Gay man of color he too has a history in this community.


I came to Tongues Untied a bit late, until 1994, when I was in grad school at the U of Virginia, and a dear friend who was at Berkeley then told me I simply HAD to see this film. I immediately did, and it was a personally transforming and academically defining work. As a gay latino, I saw how Marlon Riggs' vision crossed the board of race, gender and sexuality. I was introduced to the hegemonies of white queerness which continues to marginalize queers of color, but was also exposed to a radically new vernacular of black camp and performance that subverts and counteracts these hegemonies. I presented this work in my Color Line course with Eric Lott at UVA, and today, as a college instructor, I still use Tongues Untied in my classes to expose students to the atrocities of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Jordan White

I discovered Tongues United in March of 2004 while I was enrolled in a course on Men and Masculinity at my undergraduate school, Case Western Reserve University. The instructor had only one class scheduled on Black men and none of the suggested readings or films were about gay Black men. I brought this to his attention at the mid semester evaluation and he suggested that I send him some material that he could incorporate into that course. I knew very little about the topic myself so, I headed straight to the library and soon came across Marlon Riggs' Black is Black Aint. After watching it I did some research on Essex Hemphill and discovered Riggs' Tongues United among other works.

My professor was happy to show the film in class and it sparked much discussion around the discourse of black men, homosexuality and gender norms for the rest of the semester. I was sheltered from much of the situations while growing up and didnt really know much about black gay culture until I went to undergrad. It didnt hit me until after I saw the film the second time how revolutionary it is for two Black men to love each other romantically, especially at the time the film was made. Moreover, the film made me realize how we really have to work to love ourselves and each other despite being told otherwise. The professor now incorporates clips from the film into the course whenever he teaches it.

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