WHEN MARLON RIGGS DIED in April 1994, at the age of thirty-seven, he was immersed in making his fourth feature-length documentary. This final piece, Black Is . . . Black Ain’t (1995), a sweeping video essay on the manifold complexities of African American identity, was completed by his production team in the months following his death. Like many of his generation who developed AIDS, Riggs spent his last days in a hospital, as Black Is . . . Black Ain’t forthrightly reveals in several sequences that show the filmmaker, hooked up to machines, providing narration and commentary from his bed. In one such moment, he relates how, during a visit to the emergency room, he had dreams of Harriet Tubman appearing to him and leading him through a forest and across a river, a vision he interpreted as a sign that he needed to keep working through his adversity. This sense of urgency had gripped him
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