“Tongues Untied” is a documentary about black gay men in the ’80s. Credit: Courtesy of Frameline Distribution

What once caused controversy for its depiction of black gay men and their experiences, documentary “Tongues Untied,” directed by Marlon Riggs, is now being celebrated on campus for the 30th anniversary of the film’s release.  

“Tongues Untied” will be shown at the Wexner Center for the Arts on Monday, followed by a lecture presented by a guest professor.

The event is a collaboration between the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, with cosponsors Student Life Multicultural Center and the sexualities studies program, Shannon Winnubst, chair of the WGSS department and organizer of the event, said. 

Winnubst said “Tongues Untied” is an iconic and groundbreaking story of black gay men in the ’80s who built community and identity in the face of homophobia and racism. 

“How the film is made, the way it weaves personal narratives, poetry, dance, music with documentary themes, is just powerful stuff,” Winnubst said. “When you have an artist at that level, the level of Marlon Riggs, that work is going to last.” 

Darius Bost, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah and author of “Evidence of Being: The Black Gay Cultural Renaissance and the Politics of Violence,” will present a guest lecture titled, “Black Gay Freedom: Aesthetic Experimentation and Abolitionist Imaginings in the Work of Marlon Riggs.” 

Bost said his talk is intended to help the audience further appreciate the film by means of contextualizing its themes. He said his book focuses on the “black, gay cultural movements” and the societal attributions of black gay men who “have been overshadowed by the trauma of AIDS.” 

Bost added that he will incorporate themes from his book into the lecture to help the audience grasp integral topics within the film. 

Riggs’ piece faced controversy upon its first showing on PBS in 1991, Melissa Starker, media liaison for the Wexner Center, said. 

“It’s a really great opportunity for us to present the film that people are aware of and has a really strong reputation; it’s just most people haven’t had the chance to see it,” Starker said. 

“Tongues Untied” was first described as pornography by politicians, but has been transformed into a celebrated artistic piece, Bost said. Both Bost and Winnubst said Riggs’ work is inspiring despite the controversy surrounding the film.

“I’m hoping students will have a wake-up moment — like, ‘Oh, there’s a whole different conversation to be had here around these topics,” Winnubust said.

She added that the film is crucial to the black gay community and will help attendees start thinking about the history and cultural importance of its stories.

The documentary and lecture are Monday at the Wexner Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. The event is free; however, an RSVP on the Wexner Center’s website is requested.