The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs

The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs

10 Episodes

There has never been a filmmaker like Marlon Riggs: an unapologetic gay Black man who defied a culture of silence and shame to speak his truth with resounding joy and conviction. An early adopter of video technology, Riggs employed a bold mix of documentary, performance, poetry, and music in order to confront the devastating legacy of racist stereotypes, the impact of AIDS on his community, and the very definition of what it means to be Black. Bringing together Riggs’s complete films—including his controversy-inciting queer landmark TONGUES UNTIED and BLACK IS . . . BLACK AIN’T, the deeply personal swan song that was completed after his death at the age of thirty-seven—The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs traces the artistic and political evolution of a transformative filmmaker whose work is both an electrifying call for liberation and an invaluable historical document.

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The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs
  • Introducing Marlon Riggs

    Episode 1

    Programmer Ashley Clark and filmmakers Vivian Kleiman and Shikeith discuss the work and influence of Marlon Riggs in this conversation recorded in 2020.

  • Long Train Running: The Story of the Oakland Blues

    Episode 2

    Directed by Marlon Riggs and Peter Webster • 1981 • United States

    Marlon Riggs’s UC Berkeley thesis film draws on a wealth of archival materials to trace the evolution of the Oakland blues, a unique musical style developed by Black shipyard workers in the Bay Area in the 1940s and ’50s.

  • Ethnic Notions

    Episode 3

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1986 • United States

    Marlon Riggs’s essential, Emmy-winning documentary takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing the deep-rooted stereotypes that have fueled anti-Black prejudice. Examining the racist depictions of African Americans that h...

  • Tongues Untied

    Episode 4

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1989 • United States

    Marlon Riggs’s landmark documentary uses poetry, personal testimony, rap, and performance (featuring poet Essex Hemphill and others) to describe the homophobia and racism faced by Black gay men. The stories are often devastating: the man refused en...

  • Affirmations

    Episode 5

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1990 • United States

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

  • Anthem

    Episode 6

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1991 • United States

    Marlon Riggs’s 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 pervas...

  • Color Adjustment

    Episode 7

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1992 • United States

    Following his groundbreaking study of anti-Black stereotypes ETHNIC NOTIONS, Marlon Riggs turned his attention to the racial implications of America’s favorite addiction: television watching. COLOR ADJUSTMENT traces forty years of race relations th...

  • Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret)

    Episode 8

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1993 • United States

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

  • Black Is . . . Black Ain’t

    Episode 9

    Directed by Marlon Riggs • 1994 • United States

    The final film by Marlon Riggs jumps into the middle of explosive debates over Black identity. White Americans have always stereotyped African Americans. But the rigid definitions of “Blackness” that African Americans impose on each other, Riggs as...

  • I Shall Not Be Removed: The Life of Marlon Riggs

    Episode 10

    Directed by Karen Everett • 1996 • United States
    Starring Marlon Riggs

    This loving film biography provides a fitting memorial to Marlon Riggs, the gifted, gay, Black filmmaker who died from AIDS in 1994. It traces his development from a precocious childhood in the close-knit African American com...