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Introduction: Fighting Words

[Start of picture 00:00 to 18:31]

Black Is...Black Ain't opens with Marlon Riggs lying in a hospital bed hooked up to an IV. Riggs' battle against AIDS is a thread which runs throughout the film. He says that in this fight he draws strength from the struggles of black folks because both are "struggles against the the face of possible extinction." One of the battles African Americans have fought over the years is the struggle for self-esteem and positive definition of self. As recently as the 1960s many African Americans would not call themselves "black" because of the negative connotations of the word. Africa, too, was associated with primitiveness and backwardness. Even among Arican Americans preference was given to black people with lighter skin and European features.

  1. How did the images of Riggs lying in his hospital bed make you feel? Do you agree with his analogy that the battle against AIDS is like the struggle of black folks in America?
  2. Black Is...Black Ain't uses gumbo as a recurring motif or theme. Why do you think Riggs chose gumbo as his central metaphor for African Americans?
  3. Black people used to call other blacks who valued light skin over dark skin "color struck." Today preference for light skin is called "colorism." How is "colorism" reinforced through popular media, television, videos, and film? What are some of the effects of "colorism" in African American communities today?
  4. In Black Is..., Angela Davis says that black people "have an obsession with naming ourselves because during most of our history we've been named by somebody else." Do you think names make a difference? What do you call yourself? Does it empower black people to set the terms for what others will call them? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions
Black Is . . . Black Ain't

Introduction: Fighting Words|Black Power = Male Power?|Black Music / Black History / Afrocentrism|Sexism, Patriarchy and Homophobia|Family|Acting White / Not Black Enough?|Multiple Identities and New Forms of Community

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