Black Is...Black Ain't | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Black Is...Black Ain't


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Marlon Riggs, who made the controversial Tongues Untied, was dying of AIDS while working on his last film, Black Is ...Black Ain't. His crew completed it after his death. Shots of an ill Riggs speaking to the camera add poignancy to images, presumably taken earlier, of him running nude through a forest, proud, independent, alone. Those shots provide a clue to the film's central theme: Riggs's insistence on defining himself as he wished, free of all labels. The filmmaker weaves a dense collage of diverse viewpoints--among those we see and hear are Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, and Bill T. Jones--underlining contradictions and showing the limitations of any single perspective on identity. Black nationalist and "Christian" homophobes are represented as absurd-sounding examples of bigotry, but Riggs also abjures current "identity" politics in which being black or gay is taken as the prime marker of the self. Learning that there was a time when calling someone a "black African" was considered a gross insult doesn't invalidate Afrocentrism, but it should make us a little less sure that our current views, and lingo, are correct for all time. The film will be shown with Charles Lofton's short I Like Dreaming as part of the 15th Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday, November 10, 6:30, 384-0772.

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