Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston
In this exclusive two-week screening, watch the artist’s lyrical evocation of Black queer history.
Jun 15, 2022
Looking for Langston. 1989. USA. Directed by Isaac Julien
Emerging from the UK’s vibrant film and video-workshop movement in the early 1980s having cofounded the Sankofa Collective, Isaac Julien was already a crucial figure in the establishment of Black independent cinema when he released the revolutionary film Looking for Langston. Shortly after its release in 1989, the writer and musician Greg Tate described it as the first film to consider “the historical condition of being Black, gay, silenced, and incomprehensible.” Julien’s lyrical meditation on the Harlem Renaissance was made at a moment when the AIDS epidemic was devastating the queer community. Willing into existence a history that had not been articulated or available to Julien, Looking for Langston conjures the ghost of Langston Hughes, who joins a chorus of Black queer ancestors—from James Baldwin to Richard Bruce Nugent—in the filmmaker’s lush black-and-white phantasmagoria. The profound sense of yearning and loss that defined the late 1980s is also expressed in voiceovers by Julien’s peers, including the writers Essex Hemphill, Toni Morrison, and Stuart Hall.
Looking for Langston’s investigation of desire made it a hallmark of what B. Ruby Rich called the New Queer Cinema, and a touchstone for African American studies. Newly acquired by MoMA, the film helped to establish Julien’s singular approach to expanded biography, reimagining historical Black figures and empowering them anew. More recent iterations of this strategy include Lessons of the Hour (2019), Julien’s landmark 10-screen installation that considers Frederick Douglass, which was also recently acquired by MoMA, and Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) (2022), a new five-screen installation, on view this summer at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation, that explores the relationship between the collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes and the philosopher Alain Locke, often called the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.”
We wish you and yours a happy Pride month. Join us in July for the next installment in the Hyundai Card Video Views series, which considers artists’ engagement with a technology that has become central to our daily lives.
—Stuart Comer, The Lonti Ebers Chief Curator of Media and Performance
Media and Performance at MoMA is made possible by Hyundai Card.
Major support is provided by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director’s Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art.
Generous funding is provided by the Lonti Ebers Endowment for Performance and the Sarah Arison Endowment Fund for Performance.
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