Looking for Langston 1989
R | 45min | Biography, Drama | 1 October 1989 (USA)
A black and white, fantasy-like recreation of high-society gay men during the Harlem Renaissance, with archival footage and photographs intercut with a story. A wake is going on, with mourners gathered around a coffin. Downstairs is an elegant bar where tuxedoed men dance and talk. One of them has a dream in which he comes upon Beauty, who seems to reject him, although when he awakes, Beauty is sleeping beside him. His story and his visits to the jazz and dance club are framed by voices reading from the poetry and essays of Hughes and others. The text is rarely explicit, but the freedom of gay Black men in the 1920s in Harlem is suggested and celebrated visually.
Issac Julien’s incredibly lush visual exploration of the idea of Langston Hughes’ sexuality. In this film Julien creates a space of queer liberation around an African-American literary icon. Julien stated in an interview with the great poet Essex Hemphill (whose writing is used as text in the film) that he sought to “construct a narrative that would allow viewers to meditate and to think, rather than be told.” This is exactly what is accomplished in this profoundly beautiful and intellectually thrilling short film.
Director: Isaac Julien
Writer: Isaac Julien (screenplay)
Stars: Ben Ellison, Matthew Baidoo, Akim Mogaji
Release Date: 1 October 1989 (USA)
Filming Locations: London, England, UK