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This sensual, stirring film was one of the first to center the Black, queer experience

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Looking For Langston, gives voice to a silent generation of Black, gay men.In stark black and white, this impressionistic art film transports viewers back to the Harlem Renaissance and then moves through time and space with a transfixing lyricism.

Its title is in reference to the influential poet and activist, Langston Hughes, but the work isn’t strictly a biopic of the man, rather it uses him as a metaphor for the queer, Black experience in the 1920s.“Langston Hughes is an icon, and also an emblem of the closet,” says the film’s director, serving a reminder that, while he’s now widely assumed to have been gay, the poet never publicly announced his sexuality.At a time when certain members of society were pushing for social integration, Hughes and other Black, gay men remained as private as possible, out of fear of further being ostracized and oppressed for failing to meet perceived standards of conduct.Hughes’ poetry—as well as the words of his contemporaries like James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill—echo throughout as the film weaves in both archival footage and scripted scenes, a number of which depict a speakeasy humming with life, a loving nod to New York’s famous Cotton Club.Other scenes flow like a dream, and these are the instances where Looking For Langston becomes a provocative mediation on queer desire, stripping its stand-in for Hughes bare and staging him in lush scenes of striking nudity and intimacy.While intentionally sensual, these moments are in direct conversation with the work of controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, some of which also appears in the film.At the time, Mapplethorpe was the subject of fiery debates over censorship and free speech, and Julien drew inspiration from his explicit.

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