Yance Ford, POV’s series producer, muses on Tongues Untied, a landmark POV film — and one of the most controversial. The film has just been released on DVD by Strand Releasing.
POV series producer Yance Ford
Brother to Brother. Brother to Brother.
Brother to Brother. Brother to Brother.

Five men recite this phrase in staccato rhythm during the hypnotic opening of the film Tongues Untied (POV 1991) by Marlon Riggs, which is being released this week on DVD. I watched the film for the umpteenth time as I prepared to write this post and found myself nostalgic (again) for the days when black men of all orientations addressed each other as “brother” — rather than “nigger” or “nigga” — or however you spell it. Riggs ends the film with the statement “Black men loving black men is the revolutionary act.” He was right then and he remains so. But I digress.
Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs is now available on DVD

If, on July 16th, 1991, you were living in a market where your local PBS station hadn’t refused to air the program, you would have witnessed what is still the most sage analysis of blackness, gay identity and racism ever captured on film. Tongues Untied aired during the vitriolic culture wars of the 90s (as opposed to the Internet-fuelled semi-polite culture wars of the new century) and quickly became the whipping boy of the late Senator Jesse Helms. Helms infamously called the film “Tongues United” while ranting against it, PBS, the NEA and homosexuals from the Senate floor.

Riggs never backed down from these and the many other attacks he faced, and defended not only his right to make his work and have it aired on PBS, but to have the tax dollars of gay Americans (no pun intended) considered in the discussion of what deserves public funding. A month after the broadcast, Riggs wrote in Current Magazine:

Paradoxically, the Tongues Untied censorship hysteria has helped re-kindle an essential public debate: who is to have access to so-called “public” media and on what terms? Who should represent “minority” perspectives and experience? Above all, who has the authority to draw the thin line between innocuous “diversity” and unacceptable “deviance”?

Sixteen years and two wars later, we still haven’t answered these questions, and Riggs’ landmark film remains a relevant as ever.

Riggs’ essay for Current can be read in its entirety here. The dvd is available at Strand Releasing. It’s also part of the POV 20th Anniversary Collection.

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Yance works closely with POV's executive director and programming director to evaluate films submitted to POV She is instrumental in curating the series, a showcase of acclaimed documentary film on PBS. Yance frequently represents POV | American Documentary at conferences, festivals and markets, procuring work from filmmakers both nationally and internationally. Yance also oversees POV's annual call for entries, which yields upwards of one thousand entries, and coordinates POV's annual programming advisory board. Yance is a Programming Consultant and Pre- Screener for film festivals around the country, including the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Black Maria Film Festival, the Newport International Film Festival, Latino Public Broadcasting, Creative Capital and the Sundance Film Festival. She has served on festival juries at Full Frame and Silverdocs, appeared on panels at Sunny Side of the Doc and DocuClub and served on the IFP Advisory Committee. A graduate of Hamilton College and the production workshop at Third World Newsreel, Yance is a former Production Stage Manager for the Girls Choir of Harlem and has worked as a Production Manager on numerous independent productions for the Discovery Health and History channels. Ford has also worked in various capacities on the documentaries The Favorite Poem Project, Juanita Anderson, Executive Producer, Brian Lanker's They Drew Fire (PBS), and Barry Levinson's Yesterday's Tomorrows (Showtime).Yance's favorite documentaries include:1. Hands on a Hard Body2. Tongues Untied3. Harlan County, USA4. Cul de Sac5. When We Were Kings6. The Thin Blue Line7. Night and Fog