As part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act, many of us are also acknowledging public media’s bravest heroes. That’s why I was thrilled to be a second choice guest on Current’s “Get With the Program” series on the ITVS online screening platform, OVEE. This installment of the series featured the late, great filmmaker Marlon Riggs and his landmark poetic essay about Black, gay love, Tongues Untied (Current’s first choice from the the broadcast world, POV founder Marc Weiss, had a long term commitment that day). What mixed, turbulent memories this conversation — with Phill Wilson and Ron Simmons, Ph.D. — evoked for me. Riggs, who died in 1994 of complications of AIDS, summed up the controversy that wracked public television in an article he wrote for Current shortly after the POV broadcast in July:
“In their rhetorical equivalent to hate-filled fag-bashing, the morality watchdogs smeared and disfigured Tongues Untied beyond recognition…[suggesting] that the PBS broadcast of my work was tantamount to disseminating raw homosexual ‘pornography,’ transforming the households of America into a ‘gay striptease joint’!“
You can watch the Current panel here and below. Don’t miss the part when the moderator asks us whether we could imagine PBS accepting Tongues Untied today.
Happy Anniversary Public Media. If the vision for the future includes courage, expression, representation and risk taking, I’d fight for 50 more.