Release date1994 (1994) Initial releaseMay 5, 1995 (San Francisco) ProducersMarlon Riggs, Nicole Atkinson CastAngela Davis, Essex Hemphill, Bell Hooks, Cornel West, Bill T Jones Similar moviesSoundtrack for a Revolution (2009), Street Fight (2005), 4 Little Girls (1997), The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011), The Black Candle (2008)
Black is... Black Ain't is a 1994 award-winning feature-length documentary by Marlon Riggs. It explores the multiplicity of expressions of African American identity.
Riggs uses his grandmother's gumbo as a metaphor for the rich diversity of Black identities. The film traverses the country interviewing African Americans young and old, rich and poor, Northern and Southern, rural and urban, gay and straight, as they discuss the numerous, often contested definitions of Blackness. Riggs mixes performances by choreographer Bill T. Jones and poet Essex Hemphill with commentary by noted activist Angela Y. Davis, and cultural critics bell hooks, Cornel West, Michele Wallace, Barbara Smith and Maulana Karenga to create a flavorful stew of personal testimony, music, and history.
While Black Is...Black Ain't looks at Black diversity, many speakers tell of their pain at having been silenced or excluded because they were perceived as "not Black enough" or conversely "too Black." Black Is...Black Ain't also provides a critique of sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, colorism and cultural nationalism in the family, church and other Black institutions.
Riggs, himself is a participant in the film. He is shown, in a race against time to finish the film, struggling with his precarious health and mortality. Riggs died of AIDS in April 1994 at the age of 37 before the film was completed. Adhering to Riggs’ notes, his colleagues on the production team, Nicole Atkinson and Christian Badgely completed the film.
Black Is…Black Ain’t won the Filmmakers’ Trophy at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association.