Marlon Riggs: Freaky Free

“When nobody speaks your name, or even knows it, you, knowing it, must be the first to speak it.”

Marlon Riggs

When Marlon Riggs said this in an essay published in Out/look magazine in 1991 he summed up the process of artistic self-creation that had formed the basis of his seminal work Tongues Untied (1989). He would pass away four years later, at the age of 37, from AIDS-related complications, leaving behind a fierce body of work characterised by a rare ability to articulate the complex intersections of racial and sexual identity.

Riggs was a poet, an educator and a gay rights activist as well as a multi-award-winning filmmaker, including a Maya Daren Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

His works for television, Ethnic Notions (1986) and Colour Adjustment (1991) chronicled representations of blackness in modern American cultural history; exploring how stereotypes are disseminated and reinforced through art and media. In other, more personal works, he incorporated elements of dance, gesture, music and poetry, developing a singular vernacular, in film, that dazzles in its joyousness and clarity of vision.

We’re delighted to present the work alongside a series of creative/poetic responses from artists Evan Ifekoya, Jay Bernard and Paul Maheke, celebrating Marlon’s legacy and infusing the programme with an explicitly contemporary relevance.

This strand is supported by #BFIBlackStar and Film Audience Network

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Black Is… Black Ain’t

Marlon Riggs’ final film jumps into the middle of explosive debates over Black identity.

Using his grandmother’s gumbo as a metaphor for the rich diversity of Black identities, his camera follows 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’ 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.

This screening will be introduced by activist and performer Twiggy Pucci Garçon.

Info

Event: Screening

Director: Marlon Riggs

Year: 1994

Country: USA

Date: Sunday 23 October

Time: 5.30pm

Running Time: 1hr 30m

Location: CCA Theatre

Evan Ifekoya: Let The Rhythm Pull You Towards Your Edges (after Marlon Riggs)

A curriculum for the dance floor bringing together music, spoken word and moving image. This iteration of the work previews a new radio play This Catalogue of Poses, which follows four figures at a spectral house club night and is framed by the histories of queer nightlife in the local area. This hybrid performance/lecture/DJ set is part of Ifekoya’s ongoing project A Score, A Groove, A Phantom which investigates archives of blackness, sociality and inheritance as they diffract through queer nightlife and trauma in the present moment.

There will be space to listen, space to dance and space to reflect. Come with an open mind.

Info

Event: Performance

Date: Saturday 22 October

Time: 9.00pm

Running Time: 45m

Location: CCA Theatre

Jay Bernard: The State and The Sound

In this short performative lecture, BFI Flare programmer and writer Jay Bernard will present on the work of Marlon Riggs and the poetics of black queer politics. Using photos, film stills and audio, the piece will look closely at a world that is heavily influenced by language and ask: in the age of hashtags, memes, online activism, multi-issue protests confronting state violence in all its forms, and a renewed call for genuine structural change, how does language operate? How does it shift and change? And what is its world-making potential? From protest chants, to the poetic power of #blacklivesmatter UK, and from the black British arts movement to the work of Riggs himself, The Sound and the State will be an incisive appreciation of black queer language and culture.

Info

Event: Performance

Date: Sunday 23 October

Time: 4.30pm

Running Time: 35m

Location: CCA Theatre

Marlon Riggs Shorts

Affirmations (1990) is an exploration of Black gay male desires and dreams, starting with an affectionate, humorous confessional and moving on to a wish for empowerment and incorporation.

Anthem (1991) is Marlon Riggs’ experimental music video politicizing the homoeroticism of African-American men. With images–sensual, sexual and defiant–and words intended to provoke, Anthem reasserts the “self-evident right” to life and liberty in an era of pervasive anti-gay, anti-Black backlash and hysterical cultural repression.

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret) (1993) features a series of interviews with HIV-positive black men. Through music, poetry and quiet – at times chilling – self-disclosure, five seropositive black, gay men speak of their individual confrontations with AIDS, illuminating the difficult journey African-American men make in coping with the personal and social devastation of the epidemic.

This screening will be introduced by Conal McStravick, a London-based artist with a research interest in AIDS crisis video and video activism.

Info

Event: Screening

Director: Marlon Riggs

Year: 1990-1993

Country: USA

Date: Saturday 22 October

Time: 1.00pm

Running Time: 1hr (+30m)

Location: CCA Cinema

Paul Maheke: Decolonial Love, Eventually? (Workshop)

With supporting material, this group session aims to tackle the influence of Western privilege on desire and the power dynamics of love relationships – particularly those involving partners of different ethnicities and social backgrounds. An opportunity to ask if love/desire can evade exclusion and in turn offer the possibility to re-engineer our conflicting selves by generating (new) (messier) narratives…

In the form of an open forum, participants will be invited to share experiences and discuss desire through the lens of identity politics to question what makes Western privilege attractive.

Please note the workshop will centre on QTIPOC perspectives.

With respect to their personal experiences, participants must be aware that some of the content and questions raised during the session may be triggering for them.

Info

Event: Workshop

Date: Sunday 23 October

Time: 1.30pm

Running Time: 2hr

Location: CCA Clubroom

Tongues Untied

The seminal documentary on Black gay life, Marlon Riggs’ self-proclaimed “coming out” film uses poetry, personal testimony, rap and performance (featuring poet Essex Hemphill and others), to describe the homophobia and racism that confront Black gay men.

The film weaves together stories of homophobia and racism: a man refused entry to a gay bar because of his colour; a college student left bleeding on the sidewalk after a gay-bashing; the loneliness and isolation of the drag queen. Yet they also affirm the black gay male experience: protest marches, smoky bars, “snap diva”, humorous “musicology” and Vogue dancers.

Tongues Untied will be introduced by writer and director Topher Campbell.

Info

Event: Screening

Director: Marlon Riggs

Year: 1989

Country: USA

Date: Saturday 22 October

Time: 3.30pm

Running Time: 55m (+30m)

Location: CCA Theatre