This article appears in our 2017 Summer issue, Invisibility. Subscribe today!
From 2009 to 2014, producer and poet Jade Foster (now known as Yaani Supreme) organized The Revival, a series of salon-style poetry readings that toured the United States promoting the voices of queer Black women. The Revival follows the tour through seven cities as its featured artists perform and deal with the complexities of being Black in modern America.
Director Sekiya Dorsett’s primary subjects—Supreme, Be Steadwell, Jonquille Rice, and t’ai freedom ford—are each portrayed quite fully in the film’s spare 78 minutes. As Supreme and tour manager Eli Turner deal with the everyday strife of putting on each show, each performer undergoes her own journey: Steadwell struggles with a rocky long-distance relationship while doing the biggest shows of her life; Rice embarks on the tour not knowing if doing so will cause her to lose her job; and ford nervously welcomes her mother to a performance that touches on both her parents’ substance abuse.
To say it’s a challenge to be Black in the United States is a ludicrous understatement, and while Dorsett certainly doesn’t shy away from that reality (the crew’s run-in with police after a racist altercation in Ohio is sobering, to say the least), The Revival’s goal isn’t simply to shine a light on oppression. Through interviews with pioneering Black poets and artists like Alexis De Veaux and Harriet Alston, Dorsett connects contemporary Black queerness and poetry to its history. In the film’s opening moments, National Book Award–winning poet Nikky Finney recalls slave codes, which forbade enslaved people from reading under penalty of death. As the tour progresses and Dorsett showcases modern venues like The Juice Box in Atlanta, which provides community space for Black queer women, that history is powerfully felt.
The Revival presents a positive view of Black queerness and Black womanhood in general. Throughout the film, Dorsett sprinkles in footage that displays what Black queer women can look and sound like—not just within the Revival crew, but within each show’s audience, too. Butches and femmes, cis and trans women (Janet Mock makes a charming cameo), dykes and queers of all shapes and sizes are part of the group’s message of liberation and solidarity. That’s an increasingly necessary picture to paint as LGBTQ communities—particularly those of color—face renewed aggression in the form of bigoted legislation and ever-rising hate crimes.
Although the tour is no longer active, it played a major role in promoting the value of contemporary poetry to those who need it most. While introducing the movie, Supreme says, “Poetry definitely saved my entire life…I really believe in this holy trinity of sorts—the poet, the people, and the poem. And the people are missing, so…it’s my work to reach the people.” With The Revival, that work will continue for years to come, saving lives along the way.