Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Leah Anderst

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Film Studies | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Film and Media Studies | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other Film and Media Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Television | Visual Studies | Women's Studies


queer form, New Queer Cinema, feminist methodologies, black cultural studies, black essential masculinity, audience engagement


Marlon T. Riggs’s documentary films and their paratextual elements are rooted in his intersectional identities as a Black and gay man. His activist goal of Black gay liberation was based on what he saw as deeply engrained internal and external racist and homophobic societal structures that subjugated Black queers. In this thesis, I place research from Black cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and film studies in conversation with one another to show how Riggs’s filmography is an example of queer form. In doing so, I attempt to redefine the focus of the scholarship on Riggs from an avant-garde filmmaker of the New Queer Cinema to include a modern feminist narratological framework with the focus of destigmatizing Black queer love. I link his work with the feminist methodologies of Angela Y. Davis, bell hooks, and the women of the Combahee River Collective to show how he aimed towards the deconstruction of Black essentialist masculinity. The writings of Kobena Mercer and Uri McMillians underpin my examination of Riggs’s Black cultural aesthetics in the production of Black cultural capital. Previous scholarship on Riggs by Rhea Combs, Leah Anderst, and David Gerstner undergird my analysis of how Riggs performed both as the subject and object of his films, and what this ultimately meant for audience engagement. This thesis attempts to repay a cultural debt owed to Marlon Riggs by broadening the lens through which academic scholarship views his filmography and his contribution to today’s Black queer narrative landscape.