Looking for Langston


The man on the right is Ben Ellison, Langston Hughes, and the man on the right is his boyfriend Mathew Baidoo. From the movie “Looking for Langston,” 1989.

Is freedom merely enough? That was a question for most Black people in the United States in 19th and 20th centuries. Harlem had become the destination for most African Americans in the early 1900s. They were looking to find a way to achieve equality and civil rights. With a stronger community in Harlem, Black residents started a movement in 1910 to fight for their American rights. Uniquely, this movement was inspired by various works by Black artists: Three Plays for a Negro Theater, Claude McKay’s If We Must Die, poems by Langston Hughes, and others.

The British film maker Isaac Julien produced Looking for Langston, a movie in memory of Langston Hughes. James Mercer Langston Hughes was a creative poet, novelist, essayist and social activist. As the leader of the Harlem Renaissance, he confronted racial stereotypes and social injustice, and become known as “the voice of Black people.” During his studies at Columbia University, he experimented by combining Jazz and poems, creating a new category called Jazz poetry.

Historically, the Black queer community was stigmatized due to their sexuality and race. The people of Harlem had a tremendous amount of talented and hardworking artists. Yet, it was very hard for these artists to succeed. They were continuously discriminated against because of their race and sexuality. Langston however, stood up and defended Black gays through his work, later becoming an icon for the Black queer community throughout the Harlem Renaissance.

By Maryam Alkhlaidi


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