Thursday, February 23, 2017
Issac Julien is a British filmmaker & installation artist who rose to cult fame with the release of his 1989 documentary Looking for Langston. The film combines archival footage and photographs of Harlem in the 1920's, is shot in black and white, and in a specialized slang known as speakeasy. In the opening credits, the film states it is "a meditation on Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renassaince." Julien created this film as a celebration of black and gay identity, during a time period where homophobia, oppression, and denial run amok in Harlem, New York. The film hopes to give voice to an oppressed community, who often subsumes their queerness for their blackness, and “creating reference points and a narrative for black queer identities in the late 80’s.” Langston is portrayed as an icon who does not deny his race but reclaims it by not simply conforming to “black bourgeoisie standards whose overriding goal concerned fuller social integration.” Julien attempts to break down these barriers and self denial by being one of the few films to show a queer relationship between two black male characters, Langston Hughes and Beauty.
Upon coming across this work I was surprised to learn about the Langston Hughes’ sexual identity. Apparently, he was very private about his personal life, alongside the fact that his estate “refuses to relax its position on censoring all academic inquiry into Hughes’ sexual identity.” The estate even asked Issac to remove any and all visual or textual references to Langston Hughes in the film. Luckily, Issac refused and choose to proceed with the release of his film.