When Marlon Riggs’ best-known work, “Tongues Untied,” premiered on PBS
nationwide in 1991, some stations around the country wouldn’t run it. The program became a political talking point when candidate Pat Buchanan
weaponized the landmark documentary during the 1992 Republican Party
presidential primaries, and the deeply personal essay on the experiences of Black gay men and the search for identity was at the center of a culture war. Condemned as “pornographic” by right-wing pundits who distorted the film’s content, “Tongues Untied” was debated in the halls of Congress as the movie became the centerpiece of a wider debate — namely, how the National Endowments of the Arts (Nea
) distributes its funding. “Tongues Untied” was one of many recipients, having received a $5,000 grant.
Riggs hit back with a fiery New York Times op-ed titled “Meet the New Willie Horton,” and didn’t mince words. “Because my film, ‘Tongues Untied,’ affirms the lives and dignity of [Black] gay men,