Marlon Riggs



Marlon Riggs (3 February 1957, Fort Worth, Texas - 5 April 1994, Oakland, California), an American poet, educator, filmmaker, and gay rights activist. Riggs was inducted into the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Hall of Fame in 2006.


Graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, B.A. in history 1978; University of California at Berkeley, M.A. in journalism 1981. Taught documentary film, Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley from 1987; produced numerous video documentaries, from 1987. Honorary doctorate, California College of Arts and Crafts, 1993. Recipient: Emmy Awards, 1987 and 1991; George Foster Peabody Award, 1989; Blue Ribbon, American Film and Video Festival, 1990; Best Video, New York Documentary Film Festival, 1990; Erik Barnouw Award, 1992.


African-American filmmaker, educator and poet Marlon Riggs forged a position as one of the more controversial figures in the recent history of public television. He won a number of awards for his creative efforts as a writer and video producer. His theoretical-critical writings appeared in numerous scholarly and literary journals and professional and artistic periodicals. His video productions, which explored various aspects of African-American life and culture, earned him considerable recognition, including Emmy and Peabody awards. Riggs will nonetheless, be remembered mostly for the debate and contention that surrounded the airing of his highly charged video productions on public television stations during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Just as art-photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's provocative homoerotic photographs of male nudes caused scrutiny of government agencies and their funding of art, Marlon Riggs' video productions similarly plunged public television into an acrimonious debate, not only about funding, but censorship as well.


Riggs' early works received little negative press. The video Color Adjustment, which aired on public television stations in the early 1990s, was an interpretive look at the images of African-Americans in fifty years of American television history. Using footage from shows like Amos 'n' Andy, Julia, and Good Times, Riggs compared the grossly stereotyped caricatures of Blacks contained in early television programming to those of recent, and presumably more enlightened, decades.


By far the most polemical of Riggs' work was his production, Tongues Untied. This fifty-five minute video, which "became the center of a controversy over censorship" as reported The Independent in 1991, was aired as part of a series entitled, P.O.V. (Point of View), which aired on public television stations and featured independently produced film and video documentaries on various subjects ranging from personal reflections on the Nazi holocaust to urban street life in contemporary America.  His death due to AIDS  came prior to completion of his final work, Black Is...Black Ain't, a film which concerned the state of African-America, and the self-hating racism, sexism, homophobia within it