Marlon Riggs

Marlon Riggs

“If you’ve never heard of Marlon Riggs, you’ll wonder why the hell not. How could an artist this smart, this prescient, this frank, transparent, curious, ruminative and courageous — this funny — escape your notice? Why haven’t these trenchant, masterful video essays, with insinuatingly tangy names like ‘Color Adjustment,’ ‘Ethnic Notions’ and ‘Black Is… Black Ain’t,’ been a part of not just your movie diet but also your sense of self-understanding? How come nobody told me?!” - Wesley Morris, The New York Times.

Riggs was an American filmmaker, educator, poet and gay rights activist. Riggs created aesthetically innovative and socially provocative films that examine past and present representations of race and sexuality in America. The seven documentaries he produced, wrote and directed, include, the Emmy winning Ethnic Notions (1987), the Teddy winning Tongues Untied (1989), Affirmations (1990), Anthem (1991), the Peabody winning Color Adjustment (1991), Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret) (1992) and the the IDA and Sundance award-winning Black Is…Black Ain’t (1995).

When Tongues Untied aired on the PBS series POV in 1991, it brought about controversy as some public TV stations refused to air it, and it also riled some groups in the religious right. In 1988, Riggs was diagnosed with HIV. He continued to teach and work on his films, even as his health deteriorated. He passed away on April 5, 1994. The Marlon Riggs Collection is now housed at Stanford University Libraries.

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Marlon Riggs
  • Affirmations

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1990 • 10 minutes

    An exploration of Black gay male desires and dreams. Affirmations starts with an affectionate, humorous confessional and moves on to a wish for empowerment and incorporation.

  • Anthem

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1991 • 8 minutes

    Marlon Riggs' experimental music video politicizes 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...

  • Black is... Black Ain't

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1995 • 87 minutes

    Having grappled with the stereotypes imposed upon black people by white America, Riggs turned his attention to another fraught issue: the definitions of “blackness” that African-Americans impose on each other. Weaving together poetry, co...

  • Color Adjustment

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1991 • 88 minutes

    An essential companion to Ethnic Notions, Color Adjustment explores black representation in the age of primetime television. Deconstructing cultural touchstones from Amos ’n’ Andy to The Jeffersons to The Cosby Show, this cogent and prov...

  • Ethnic Notions

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1986 • 58 minutes

    Unflinching, unsettling, and essential, this Emmy-winning documentary examines the devastating legacy of black stereotypes throughout American history, from the slavery era to the present. Drawing on a wide variety of media—from minstrel...

  • Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1992 • 38 minutes

    Through music, poetry and quiet, at times, chilling self-disclosure, five positive black gay men speak of their individual confrontation with AIDS, illuminating the difficult journey black men throughout America have made in coping with ...

  • Tongues Untied

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • Documentary • 1989 • 55 minutes

    The seminal documentary on Black gay life, Emmy Award-winning director Marlon T. Riggs’ 1989 Tongues Untied uses poetry, personal testimony, rap and performance (featuring poet Essex Hemphill and others), to describe the homophobia and r...