Marlon Riggs , Producer
Marlon Riggs was known for making insightful and controversial documentary films confronting racism and homophobia that thrust him onto center stage in America's "cultural wars." Born in Ft. Worth Texas on February 3, 1957, Marlon graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard and received his masters' degree from the University of California, Berkeley where he became a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Journalism.
Marlon's second major work, Tongues Untied (1989), catapulted him into the debate over public funding of the arts. This documentary was the first frank discussion of the black, gay experience on television. Though acclaimed by critics and awarded Best Documentary at Berlin and other film festivals, its broadcast by the PBS series P.O.V. was immediately pounced upon by the Religious Right as a symbol of everything wrong with public funding for art and culture, particularly culture outside the mainstream. Senator Jesse Helms was point man for the chorus of denunciation. Then Patrick Buchanan re-edited a 20-second clip from the film (a blatant copyright infringement) for a sensationalized TV ad "hit piece" blasting the NEA during the 1992 presidential primary.
It was perhaps inevitable that Marlon would become a lightning rod in this fight since he was an outspoken activist for a more diverse and inclusive media. In 1988 he spoke before a U.S. Senate Committee as part of the successful campaign to create the Independent Television Service (ITVS) supporting controversial, independent voices on public television. Expressing his vision of a more democratic, more inclusive television, he testified, "ITVS is supposed to shake you up, to address areas of deep taboo no one is willing to talk about, to give voice to communities which have been historically silenced. America needs to realize the value of having a communicative institution designed to challenge us and upset us. There is value in doing something more than making culture answerable to the marketplace."