Looking for Langston: I too, sing America
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an American poet and writer. With his poems Hughes fought for awareness and empowerment in the African-American community, and against racism and discrimination. Although it was commonly presumed that he was gay, he never openly came out. Julien's film portrays Langston Hughes as an African-American cultural icon with a repressed gay desire. He explores the ambiguous sexual subtexts of a period of rich artistic expression, and the enduring cultural significance of these pioneers’ work.
Julien mediates with a poetic, lyrical perspective on Langston Hughes. The film shows a juxtaposition between the past and the present. The Harlem Renaissance was a flowering of African-American social thought that was expressed through the arts in the 1920s. Extracts from Hughes' poetry is interwoven with the work of cultural figures from the 1920s and 1980s, including black poets Essex Hemphill (1957-1995) and Bruce Nugent (1906-1987), constructing a lyrical and multilayered narrative.
An important aspect of Looking for Langston is it's timely treatment of the above themes. Julien contrasts the ravages of the AIDS epidemic - which was at its height during filming - with this lyrical exploration of the past.
While Julien was directing the film, he studied the photographs of James Van der Zee, George Platt Lynes and Robert Mapplethorpe. Working with Nina Kellgren (cinematographer) and Sunil Gupta (photographer), he created three photographic series. These photographs deploy an array of old and new technologies. For Julien, the photographs act as memorial sites. One can see a direct relation between these images imbued with references to the history of 1930s black and white African-American photography and 1980s queer cultures. (Source: Galerie Ron Mandos)