Black Is... Black Ain't (1995)
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(from The Watermark 06/10/95) Racial issues are tackled to great effect in Black Is...Black Ain't by gay director/producer Marlon Riggs. A glimpse into the paradoxical definitions of “blackness” to be found within the black community, Riggs begins by showing his own mother making her famous gumbo, and keeps returning periodically to the image of the stew, reinforcing the many different ingredients of which the black community is made. Riggs’ meticulous exploration is fascinating as it looks at the community’s perceptions of Black vs. African-American, religion, patriarchy, feminism, sexuality, language, and gender issues (to name a few), yet the film is never uninteresting or exhaustive. Information is presented through interviews with various black subjects: family members, strangers, educators, professionals, homosexuals, artists, ministers, pre-school children, and high-school dropout gang members. Riggs isn’t afraid to get artistic with his work, interspersing gospel, blues, and R & B music, poetry, interpretive dance, famous quotations, and the flashing of words on the screen to reinforce particular points he is trying to make. The most touching aspect of the film is how it follows Riggs' own declining health as he gradually succumbs to AIDS. Therein lies Riggs' true statement: that as his own body is killing him, the internal conflicts within the black community are preventing it from finding its true freedom. Parallels to the gay community abound, and the film enlightens both informationally and spiritually. Riggs died before the completion of the film, but it was finished according to his wishes and now stands out as a beautiful legacy to this gifted artist.
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