Looking for Langston (1989)

  • 1989
  • 40min
  • United Kingdom

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In this lyrical and poetic consideration of the life of revered Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, filmmaker Isaac Julien invokes Hughes as a Black gay cultural icon, placing him against an impressionistic, atmospheric setting that parallels a Harlem speakeasy of the 1920s with an ‘80s London nightclub. Extracts from Hughes’ poetry are interwoven with the work of cultural figures from the 1920s and beyond, including black poets Essex Hemphill and Bruce Nugent, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, constructing a lyrical and multi-layered narrative. Julien explores the ambiguous sexual subtexts of a period of rich artistic expression, and the enduring cultural significance of these pioneers’ work. Shot in black-and-white by cinematographer Nina Kellgren, the film combines archival footage with newly staged set pieces, fantasy sequences, and an imagined love story. The result is a beautiful and ultimately celebratory piece about artistic expression and the nature of Black gay desire.


Isaac Julien