In this lyrical and poetic consideration of the life of revered Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, award-winning British filmmaker Isaac Julien invokes Hughes as a black gay cultural icon, against an impressionistic, atmospheric setting that parallels a Harlem speakeasy of the 1920s with an 80s London nightclub.
Extracts from Hughes’s 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 multilayered 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.
- Commentary with Isaac Julien and Nina Kellgren (Director of Photography).
- Short film Portrait in Blue: Essex Hemphill (Isaac Julien, 2005).
- ‘First and Last Words: Essex Hemphill and Larry Duckette in Conversation’ — audio recording of a 1990 radio programme.
- Photo gallery.
- 48-page illustrated booklet with essays by Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Armond White, bell hooks and others; interview with director, reviews and biographies.
English for the hard-of-hearing
Original aspect ratio
2 Europe (except Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus), Middle East, Egypt, Japan, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Greenland, French Overseas departments and territories