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Black Is...Black Ain't

Monday, May 9, 2016 - 4:45pm
Trailer(s)
Community Partner(s)

Black Is...Black Ain't

Marlon Riggs and Christiane Badgley | 
USA |
 1995 | 
86 minutes

THIS FILM IS PART OF BLACK LIFE IS, AIN’T AND STILL RISES, CURATED BY REBECCA CARROLL.

Filmmaker/activist/poet Marlon Riggs died in 1995 at the age of 37 before he could complete his final work Black Is…Black Ain’t. The film was finished by his friend and co-director Christiane Badgley. The film is packed with ideas and images, song and dance, performance and conversation — all of it in search of what it means to be black. Younger versions of Cornell West, bell hooks, Bill T. Jones, and Angela Davis talk about their experiences growing up black in America. The result is not unlike a spicy gumbo: full of every possible ingredient and bursting with intelligence, humour, and pathos. The film travels across the US from Louisiana to California, referencing, along the way, how the black population has historically found different ways to separate and divide, whether based on gender, sexuality, language, or skin colour. As Angela Davis recounts, “You didn’t call anyone a ‘Black African’ unless you were ready to fight.” But the diversity of black identity continues to defy simple essentialism. Writer/activist bell hooks suggests communion is a better goal than unity. “So often when black folks evoke unity,” says hooks, “it’s a flattening out of differences — sweeping certain things under the rug so we can appear to be alike.” Archival footage, and performance pieces from Riggs and choreographer Bill T. Jones add humour and power. But ultimately, the film is a plea for compassion and inclusivity. “There is a cure for what ails us as a people,” says Riggs. “That is for us to talk to each other... about the ways in which we hurt each other.” -DW

Filmmaker

Marlon Riggs

Marlon Riggs was known for making insightful and controversial documentary films confronting racism and homophobia that thrust him onto center stage in America’s cultural wars. Born in Ft. Worth Texas on February 3, 1957, Marlon graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard and received his masters’ degree from the University of California - Berkeley where he became a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Journalism.