XL Popcorn – Tongues Untied

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 929/1009Title: Tongues Untied
Director: Marlon T. Riggs
Year: 1989
Country: USA

This film is a landmark for multiple reasons. On a more practical list-based level, Tongues Untied is the final film on the list I had to check off that was under an hour – wish I could say the same of films over three hours. In a broader sense, Tongues Untied is landmark in queer black cinema in how this experimental documentary weaves in narration with slam poetry and what it means to be a gay black man. Whilst the focus is on being gay and black in American, there are broader themes that are sadly seen around the world.

Although progress has been made, watching Tongues Untied really brings it home just how little things have necessarily moved on in the last 30 years for queer people of colour. Most of what was said still applies and so most of the poems and shots could be broadly used today with little need for updating. The only thing that would mercifully be needed would be an update around the AIDS crisis which, although not over, is far more controlled in 2021.

I know that, as a queer individual, the impact of Tongues Untied will have likely been greater – but it is hard to deny that this is both a well made and different way to show off the experience of those at this particular intersection. I could have done without the slow motion vogueing sequence going on as long as it did – but that’s just a minor quibble here.

The fact that this still has power today is such testament to director Marlon T. Riggs and those who collaborated with him on this project. It’s an interesting take on a documentary whose controversy was solely down to racism and homophobia. Probably has had little viewership for just this reason, which is a crying shame as it has so much to teach and experience. Even if just for the many types of snap.

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