In the spring of 2016, I taught two concurrent sections of a seminar on Avant-Garde Film and Video Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. When I tallied up the 25 final papers across my two sections, I received two papers on Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), two papers on Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971), three papers on Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses (1967) … and six papers on Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied (1989). Clearly, the video had struck a nerve, above and beyond anything else I had shown in the course had managed to do.
I have subsequently integrated the video into my course “Moving Images and Arguments,” on cinematic rhetoric, and I definitely plan to teach it again in the future, across a variety of possible contexts. I like to take a relatively hands-off approach when teaching Tongues Untied, privileging student conversation over lecture. However, I do have some notes on things I have found it productive to turn to while leading discussion, based primarily around clips I find to be especially rich.