Access to Collection
Processing Information Note
Scope and Contents
Title: Marlon Riggs Papers
Identifier/Call Number: M1759
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Language of Material:
112.0 Linear feet
(37 manuscript boxes, 5 half-boxes, 3 card boxes, 34 flat boxes, 28 cartons, 1 oversize box)
Date (inclusive): 1957-1994
This collection documents the life and career of the documentary director, Marlon Troy Riggs, 1957-1994. The majority of the
materials in the Collection are from the period between 1984 and Riggs' death in 1994, the decade of his concentrated film-making
activity, as well as some more personal materials from the late 1970s onwards. The papers include correspondence, manuscripts,
subject files, teaching files, project files, research, photographs, audiovisual materials, personal and biographical materials
created and compiled by Riggs.
General Physical Description note:
Audio/Visual material housed in 90 cartons containing: 16 Film reels, 149 VHS videotapes, 437 Umatic videotapes, 602 Betacam
videotapes, 50 Digibeta videotapes, I Betamax videotape, 1 D8 tape, 6 micro cassette tapes, 2 DARS tapes, 14 Hi-8 tapes, 10
DAT tapes, 8 reels 2inch video, 27 reels 1inch video, 49 DVDs, 108 audio cassettes, 48 audio reels, 2 compact discs; Computer
Media: 1 floppy disc 8inch, 171 floppy discs 5.25inch, 190 3.5-inch floppy discs, and papers housed in 77 boxes, 62 flat boxes,
and 11 half boxes.
Access to Collection
Open for research; material must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. There are restricted materials
in series 3 subseries 5. Audio-visual materials are not available in original format, and must be reformatted to a digital
use copy for research viewing on campus only. Some audio visual materials have a digital copy, details available in the reading
room. As per legal agreement, copies of audio-visual material are only available in the Special Collections reading room unless
explicit written permission from the copyright holder is obtained. Born-Digital materials closed until processed.
[identification of item], Marlon Riggs Collection, M1759. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford,
Marlon was a very organized individual, due to his training as a journalist and as a documentary film maker and subsequently
his paper files were found to be in a prearranged condition, divided into film projects and presented in an orderly manner.
Consequently, it has been decided to keep this arrangement, as much as possible, in order to present the systematical layout
of his paperwork collection, as well as to show his methodical thinking. This application of keeping the original order of
the collection also applies to his videotapes, which were numbered within each project according to the type of element used
in the production, and the original numbers have been kept, and supplemented with numbers where tapes were unnumbered. Each
film project has its own subseries within the Audio Visual Series, and tapes are numbered accordingly within each project.
The arrangement of the collection is as follows: Series 1: Project Files, Series 2: Audio Visual, Series 3: Other Papers,
Series 4. Born-Digital Materials.
Series 1 has been further split into 9 subseries consisting of papers relating to film projects, in chronological order: Subseries
1: Long Train Running, Subseries 2: Ethnic Notions, Subseries 3: Tongues Untied, Subseries 4: Affirmations, Subseries 5: Color
Adjustment, Subseries 6: No Regrets, Subseries 7: Anthem, Subseries 8 - Black Is…Black Ain’t, Subseries 9: Other items
Series 2 has been further split into 9 subseries consisting of film projects in chronological order: Subseries 1: Long Train
Running, Subseries 2: Ethnic Notions, Subseries 3: Tongues Untied, Subseries 4: Affirmations, Subseries 5: Color Adjustment,
Subseries 6: No Regrets, Subseries 7: Anthem Subseries, 8 - Black Is…Black Ain’t, Subseries 9: Other items
Series 3 has been further split into 5 subseries consisting of: Subseries 1: Paper materials relating to Research materials,
Subseries 2: Papers relating to Writings (either about Riggs or by Riggs), includes Journalism papers, Subseries 3: Paper
materials relating to business correspondence, Subseries 4 - Paper materials relating to personal correspondence such as letters,
cards, notebooks and diaries, Subseries 5 - Paper materials relating to financial matters, both business and personal
Series 4. Born-Digital Materials is CLOSED UNTIL PROCESSED.
Processing Information Note
This collection was processed by Lydia Pappas in 2011. Audio-visual materials were reformatted in 2011 by Stanford Digital
Preservation Department; born-digital materials will be closed until processed.
All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from, or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the
Head of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94304-6064. Consent
is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission
from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner, heir(s) or assigns. See: http://library.stanford.edu/depts/spc/pubserv/permissions.html.
Restrictions also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research
and educational purposes.
Scope and Contents
The Marlon Riggs Collection documents the life and career of the documentary director, Marlon Troy Riggs, 1957-1994. Most
of the materials in the Collection are from the period between 1984 and Riggs' death in 1994, the decade of his concentrated
film-making activity, as well as some more personal materials from the late 1970s onwards.
The Riggs collection was acquired by Stanford University in 2010 from the trustees of Signifyin Works, the production company
Marlon set up with Vivian Kleiman in 1991. The collection consisted of over 100 legal sized boxes and 30 media containers.
Half a dozen boxes were added from the personal collection of Jack Vincent, Marlon’s life partner, in August 2011. Processing
of the collection began in May 2011 and finished in December 2011, culminating with the rehousing of all the materials into
approximately 250 boxes of varying sizes, with distinct elements housed together.
The audio visual materials relate directly to his video projects made either through MTR Productions or Signifyin Works, and
are made up of various elements including research material, television shows, archival footage, original footage and interviews
shot by his production team, as well as the components of his production assembly such as rough and fine cuts, graphic and
musical elements. The paper materials consist of both work related and personal documents and files dating from 1976 through
to 1995 and are made up of a variety of items from personal correspondence such as cards and letters, newspapers, newsletters
and research articles, financial papers, paperwork directly relating to his video projects, and papers from his journalism
days at UCB, both studying and teaching.
Long Train Running: The Story of the Oakland Blues, 1981. (Co-producer, director and editor) Summary: Documentary about the
history of blues music in Oakland following the migration of black people to the East Bay area following WWII. Produced as
a graduate thesis for UC Berkeley. Awards: American Film Institute National Video Festival Documentary Division First Prize,
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Student Television awards Documentary Second Prize
How much is enough? Decision Making in the Nuclear Age, 1982. PBS "Crisis to Crisis Series" (Associate Editor)
A Traveling Jewish Theatre, 1983 (Editor)
Fighting Ministers, 1983. (Assistant Editor) Summary: A program about a group of Ministers who protest the closing of the
Pittsburgh steel mills. Broadcast nationally on PBS, 1983.
The First Fifty Years: Reflections on U.S./Soviet Relations, 1984. (associate Editor) Summary: A television special documenting
the history of U.S. -Soviet relations through Soviet and American footage and interviews with key Americans such as Richard
Nixon. Broadcast nationally on PBS in 1984. Winner of the duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, 1985.
Faces of War (Faces of the Enemy), 1986. (Associate Editor) Summary: A one-hour special for PBS examining how thoughts and
images of the enemy lead to violence and war. Broadcast nationally on PBS, May 1987. National Emmy Nomination, 1987
Changing Images: Mirrors of Life, Molds of Reality, 1987. (Producer, director, editor and writer)
Ethnic Notions, 1987. (Producer, director, and writer) Summary: Riggs' first solo professional feature documentary, this film
traces the evolution of black caricature and stereotypes of black people in American popular culture of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. With a narrative voice-over provided by Esther Rolle, the film interweaves film footage, cartoons,
music, dance, theatre and stills of historical images to expose the racism of the era immediately following the Civil War.
The documentary presents a set of contemporary interviews with historians George Fredrickson, Pat Turner and Larry Levine,
cultural critic Barbara Christian, and others, who discuss the consequences of historical African-American stereotypes. Awards:
Winner of the Individual Craft Award of Outstanding Achievement in Research in the national news and documentary category,
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, First Prize in the Black American Cinema Society Independent Filmmaker awards,
Best Documentary in the San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Awards, First prize in the U.S. History Category
of the National Educational Film and Video Festival. Newark Black Film Festival Award, Red Ribbon Award from the American
Film and Video Festival, and the Chicago International Film Festival Award, 1987. National Educational Film and Video Festival
Gold Apple Award, 1987.
Open Window: Innovations from the University of California, 1988. (director and writer)
Visions toward Tomorrow: Black Californians From the Gold Rush to the Present, 1989. (Director, producer, writer, and editor)
Tongues Untied, 1989. (Producer, director, and writer) Summary: In this autobiographical film Riggs uses a narrative structure
to tell of his own experiences, blending documentary footage with personal accounts and fiction in an attempt to depict black
gay identity. The "silence" referred to throughout the film is that of the black gay man, who not only faces prejudices from
white and black heterosexual society, but also from the white gay movement. Awards: Winner of the Blue ribbon in the American
Film and Video Festival, Best Video in the New York Documentary Festival, Best Experimental Video in the San Francisco International
Film and Video Festival, Berlin International Film Festival Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film Award, Los Angeles Film
Critics Association Independent/Experimental Film or Video Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Individual
Craft Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research, Outstanding merit award and best experimental video, both from Black
Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Wellington Film festival award to Tongues Untied, Certificate of Merit from the Big Muddy Film Festival,
D.C. International Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival award and Special Jury Award of the USA Film Festival,
Dallas. National Educational Film and Video Festival Gold Apple Award, 1990.
Affirmations, 1990. (Producer and director) Summary: This film is made from the outtakes of "Tongues Untied", and includes
a coming-out story of black gay writer Reginald T. Jackson, and further develops Riggs' critique of homophobia originally
expressed in Tongues Untied.
Color Adjustment, 1991. (producer, director, and writer) Summary: Riggs's follow-up to Ethnic Notions, focusing on images
of black people in American television from the mid-1940s through the 1980s and scrutinizing television's racial myths and
stereotypes. Narrated by African-American actress Ruby Dee and using contemporary interviews of television actors, directors,
producers, and cultural commentators, the documentary conveys personal reflections and academic analyses of such television
programs as Amos 'n' Andy, Beulah, The Nat King Cole Show, Julia, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Good Times, Roots, The
Cosby Show and others. Riggs portrays a history of the race conflict as reflected in television, tracing 40 years of race
relations through the lens of prime time entertainment. Awards: Winner of the 1992 Erik Barnouw Award from the Organization
of American Historians, The International Documentary Association's Distinguished Documentary Achievement Award, American
Film Institute Independent Film and Video Artists Award, 1992, George Foster Peabody Award, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize
at Sundance. Worldfest Houston Gold Special Jury Award,1992. Chicago International Film Festival Award, 1991. National Educational
Film and Video Festival Best of Festival, 1992. Sydney Film festival certificate of screening, Jerusalem Film festival award
and Cleveland Film Festival certificate of participation, 1992.
No Regrets, 1992. (producer and director) Summary: In the film [Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret)], five gay Black men,
who are HIV-positive, discuss how they are battling the double stigmas surrounding their infection and homosexuality. It was
commissioned as part of a series of documentaries on the AIDS crisis. Awards: Winner of the Juror's Choice at the Black Maria
Film and Video Festival, Best "Black Experience" Film/Video at the 8th Annual Black International Cinema Festival, Honorable
Mention and Best Cultural Affairs Documentary by the National Black Programming Consortium's Prized Pieces Festival.
Anthem, 1993. (producer and director) Summary: This film is a short documentary about African-American male sexuality, shown
as a collage of images of black men, using hip-hop music, fast editing techniques and graphics in the style of a music video.
Awards: The Brooklyn Arts Council Award Certificate
Black Is...Black Ain't, 1994. (producer, director, and writer) Summary: This film, using the analogy of Gumbo as a metaphor
for the rich diversity of Black identities, tells the story of the African American experience, through the many images of
black people of themselves. Riggs mixes performances by choreographer Bill T. Jones and poet Essex Hemphill, with commentary
by noted cultural critics Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Cornel West, Michele Wallace, and Barbara Smith to explore the lives,
histories, and stereotypes surrounding African American culture and people. Riggs' own urgent quest for self-definition and
community ties the multiple perspectives together. Speaking from his hospital bed, Riggs takes strength for his struggle against
AIDS from the continual resilience of African Americans in the face of oppression. Awards: Winner of the Filmmaker's Trophy
in Documentary, nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival, 1995. Winner of the Golden Gate Award for the
Bay Area Documentary Film & Video at the San Francisco International Film festival, 1995. Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Best
Film Overall award and First Place Documentary section award, 1995
Marlon Troy Riggs was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1957. Riggs lived in Fort Worth, Texas, until the age of 11, when his
family moved to Georgia and then to West Germany. He returned to the United States in 1974 to attend Harvard University, where
he studied history and graduated, with honors, in 1978. Riggs returned to Texas to work in television but left in 1980 to
pursue a master's degree in journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1981. His graduate thesis
entitled Long Train Running, produced and co-directed with fellow student Peter Webster, was a half-hour video on the history
of the blues in Oakland, California.
Upon finishing graduate school, Riggs honed his skills as a filmmaker by assisting documentary directors and producers, working
as associate editor on works made for public television. By the time he began producing his own works in 1985, he had many
films to his credit, including short documentaries on the American arms race, Nicaragua, Central America, sexism, and disability
rights. Having already established a name amongst producers and technicians in documentary film in the San Francisco Bay area,
Riggs continued to build on that reputation as he produced, directed, and wrote his own films. In 1987, Riggs was hired as
a part-time faculty member at the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkeley to teach documentary filmmaking. He became a tenured
professor at Berkeley shortly thereafter and spent the rest of his working life in the Oakland area.
In 1989 he completed his own film, Ethnic Notions, a documentary concerning the pervasive stereotypes of African Americans
in advertising, literature and popular culture. In the film, Riggs traces the history of stereotypes from slavery to the present,
presenting the ways by which centuries-old attitudes about African Americans informed contemporary racism. Although Ethnic
Notions is a challenging look at the images that have been used in American culture to reinforce racism, it was received with
respect by all audiences alike and won a series of prestigious awards, including the Individual Craft Award of Outstanding
Achievement in Research in the national news and documentary category from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
However, it was his second major documentary, Tongues Untied, which established Riggs as a controversial figure, pushing him
into the limelight in the debate over public funding of the arts. Tongues Untied, using a hybrid of experimental and documentary
forms, showed scenes of fantasy, performance, personal testimonies, direct address, and autobiography to confront stereotypes
and to convey an authentic and positive black gay identity. In order to demonstrate the harmful effects of silence on self-esteem,
the film contrasts this image with negative representations of gay black men as caricatures and drag queens in contemporary
American popular culture. The three principle voices of Tongues Untied are those of Riggs, as well as gay rights activists
and HIV positive men, Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam.
Though the film was well received by critics and the public, it was deemed controversial because of its frank depiction of
racism and homophobia. This highly personal documentary was the first frank discussion of the black, gay experience on television
and kept the film from being aired on most public television stations. The film was used, along with other federally funded
art works, by conservative members of the United States Senate to attack the National Endowment for the Arts, which sparked
a national debate about funding from the Federal government of the United States for artistic creations some consider obscene.
Artists stressed their basic right of free speech and vehemently opposed censorship of their art. In the 1992 Republican presidential
primaries, presidential candidate Buchanan released an anti-Bush television advertisement for his campaign using re-edited
clips from Tongues United. The ad aired for several days throughout the United States but was quickly removed from television
channels after Riggs accused Buchanan of copyright infringement.
In 1989, while making Tongues Untied, Riggs tested positive for HIV but continued making films, despite the onset of complications
from the infection. In 1991, Riggs produced the long-awaited sequel to Ethnic Notions, Color Adjustment, a documentary film
that traces the evolution of the black image in television. Featuring clips from Amos 'n' Andy, Beulah, The Nat King Cole
Show, Julia, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Good Times, Roots, The Cosby Show and others, as well as newsreel footage from
the 1960s Civil Rights years, Riggs portrays a history of the race conflict as reflected in television. Using contemporary
interviews of television actors, directors, producers, and cultural commentators, the documentary conveys personal reflections
and academic analyses of the use of race in television programs from the 1950s through to the 1980s. Color Adjustment was
met with high critical praise, receiving a Peabody Award and being nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. In 1992
it was also aired as part of the P.O.V. series on PBS.
In addition to his work as a documentary film-maker, Riggs also published both fiction and scholarly articles related to his
academic work. The themes of his writings include filmmaking, free speech and censorship, and criticism of racism and homophobia
and were published during the late 1980s and early 1990s in various art and literary journals.
"Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around." As a media activist, Riggs testified before Congress and wrote widely on issues of
censorship and issues related to the control of intellectual property. He was also on the national policy committee of the
PBS and served on panels of organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts. 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.
As well as his longer documentaries, Marlon created several short experimental videos including Affirmations, which included
a coming-out story of black gay writer Reginald T. Jackson. In 1991, Riggs directed and produced Anthem, a short documentary
about African-American male sexuality. Viewed as a take on music videos, the film includes a collage of erotic images of black
men, hip-hop music, and a call to celebrate difference in sexuality.
In 1992, Riggs directed the film Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regret), in which five gay Black men who are HIV-positive discuss
how they are battling the double stigmas surrounding their infection and homosexuality. It was commissioned as part of a series
of documentaries on the AIDS crisis called "Fear of Disclosure". In 1993, Riggs received an honorary doctorate degree from
the California College of Arts and Crafts.
Marlon Riggs' final film, Black Is...Black Ain't, is an example of the kind of television programming he struggled to support
all his life. Hospitalized by kidney failure and other ailments, he continued to direct, even appearing on camera from his
hospital bed, and the film took on a more personal tone as his illness progressed. While filming Riggs grew sicker but continued
to write until kidney failure and other problems confined him to a hospital bed. Riggs succumbed to the complications of AIDS
on April 5, 1994, before he could finish the film. His co-producer Nicole Atkinson and co-director Christiane Badgely used
his notes as a guide to complete the film seven months after his death.
In "Black Is...Black Ain't" Riggs commented from his hospital bed that "As long as I have work then I'm not going to die,
cause work is a living spirit in me--that which wants to connect with other people and pass on something to them which they
can use in their own lives and grow from." Ultimately, Riggs's work lives on, showing that his voice is stronger than his
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Asante, Molefi K., 1942-
Black Gay Men United.
Black Panther Party
Buchanan, Patrick J. (Patrick Joseph), 1938-
California Newsreel (Firm).
Christian, Barbara, 1943-2000
Corbitt, Wayne T.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Cosby, Bill, 1937-
Davis, Angela Y., (Angela Yvonne), 1944-
Davis, Anthony, 1951- X
Franti, Michael, 1968-
Fredrickson, George M., 1934-2008
Gates, Henry Louis
Hall, Stuart, 1932-
Harris, Lyle Ashton, 1965-
Hurston, Zora Neale
Jones, Bill T.
KRON-TV (Television station : San Francisco, Calif.)
Leonard, Sheldon, 1907-1997
MacDonald, J. Fred
Murphy, Eddie, 1961-
Nicholas, Denise, 1944-
Poussaint, Alvin F.
Reid, Timothy L.
Saint, Assoto, 1957-1993
Smith, Barbara, 1946-
Turner, Patricia A.
Tyson, Mike, 1966-
University of California, Berkeley.
Wolper, David L.
X, Malcolm, 1925-1965
African American dancers.
African American HIV-positive men
African Americans --History --Study and teaching (Higher).
African Americans --Study and teaching.
African Americans in popular culture
African Americans in popular culture--Songs and music.
African Americans musicians.
African Americans on television
African Americans--Civil rights--United States.
African Americans--Race identity
AIDS (Disease) and art
AIDS (Disease) and the arts
AIDS (Disease) in mass media
AIDS (Disease)--Social aspects--United States
Arts, Modern- -20th century
Black power--United States.
Civil rights movements--United States.
Civil rights--United States.
Documentary television programs
Documentary television programs--Production and direction
Educational television programs.
Gay and lesbian film festivals
Gay Community--San Francisco Bay Area
Gay men's writings, American
Gay men--Sexual behavior--United States
Gay men--United States--Social conditions
Gays --California --Public opinion.
Graduate students--Scholarships, fellowships, etc.
HIV-positive gay men
Homosexuality in art.
Minorities in television.
Motion pictures--United States
Racism in popular culture
Racism--United States--History--20th century
Stereotypes (Social psychology) in mass media
Television -- Advertising commercials
Television broadcasting--United States
Television in education.
Television programs--United States--History
U.S. - social history
University of California, Berkeley--Students.