Looking for Langston a film by Isaac Julien

We went to an exhibition in gallery Ron Mandos of the film ‘Looking for Langston’ by Isaac Julien. The exhibition shows blown up stills, photographs and sketches of the movie. You can also see the movie at a free showing in a small cinema within the gallery. It gave us a very enjoyable and moving 42 minutes.

Looking for Langston

Langston Hughes in 1936 by Carl van Vechten
Langston Hughes in 1936 by Carl van Vechten

Looking for Langston (1989) is a memoriam to Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance viewed from a black gay perspective. Langston Hughes was a Afro-American poet, who lived from 1902 until 1967. He was one of the foremost writers of the Harlem Renaissance, a Afro-American cultural movement in the 1920’s. He also had a huge influence in later black liberation movements in the USA and in Africa, the Caribbean and South America. Nowadays it is widely accepted that Hughes was gay. He himself has never spoken openly about this.

The movie is an almost dadaist set of interwoven black-and-white scripted scenes. It tells the story of black men in the twenties US going out and finding gay love. And also a story of black gay men facing discrimination and brutality. It portrays the beauty of African American men and the hidden, but important gay scene during the Harlem Renaissance.

Some scenes and spoken texts also go forward to the eighties and tell the story of aids and anti gay police actions in the UK. All over the movie texts of Langston Hughes, of Richard Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin, and Essex Hemphill recited. Noticeable people in the movie are  Toni Morisson (narrating), Jimmy Sommerville (as an angel) and Langston Hughes (on archival material).

We enjoyed this exhibition very much as beautiful view into the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance and also in the 1980’s. The shots (and the men) are beautiful and reminded us somewhat of some Madonna video clips like Vogue. Knowing her, she probably was inspired by this work of Isaac Julien.

Isaac Julien

It is intriguing to see the material that was made in preparation of the movie. It really makes us curious about other work by Isaac Julien. This black, gay, British artist is still creating work and exhibiting all around the world. In the meantime go watch this exhibition!