ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Mr. Moore’s film absurdly states that there seems to be no loyalty, love, or hope for the black man in the United States
or for the revolutionary artist – which, in case you don’t know, is now extinct. As an Act of Protest seems to follow
the nationalist line of thought which struck me as odd because of Mr. Moore’s apparent admiration of poet Amiri Baraka.
Mr. Baraka is a communist, not a Nationalist – he gave that Black Power nonsense up in the 1960’s.
Agiprop & “Serious” Black Filmmakers
A Response to As An Act of Protest
By Gregory Johnson
Why do serious black filmmakers always feel like they need to address the damage done to black people in America? It seems like an initiation for all black “filmmakers” who are to be taken seriously. Dennis Leroy Moore’s As An Act of Protest is no exception – although it would be if one defined it what it should have been – which is more of a joke rather than an actual movie.
Overlong, self-indulgent, absurd, and full of wildly racist caricatures of white people – “As An Act of Protest” is a bizarre drawn out drama about an African-American actor named Cairo and his response to the racism that seems to permeate the world around him. In a nutshell, Cairo goes from sensitive artist to wild-killer, avenging the death of his brother who was killed by two police officers. This would be at least interesting in theory if it weren’t ridiculous. Cairo, neatly portrayed by the sexy and dreamy Luis Laporte goes through a series of events in the movie, which Mr. Moore describes in his program notes as a “rite-of passage-stations-of-the-cross journey,” of which he eventually reaches the precipice of and ridiculously comes to the realization that there is apparently no way out or hope from the black man to gain justice.
Must I remind Mr. Moore of OJ Simpson or the Oscars recently awarded to Denzel and Halle Berry? The film seems to claim that if the black voice (in this case a theatre!) is taken away or repressed, then violence will erupt. The film literally shows the effect of what happens when a gang of evil white bankers cruelly takes over a black theatre in Harlem. The loony, but sometimes humorous, director Abner (played by the filmmaker himself) ends up giving up on his mission and this sends Cairo into a tailspin since apparently he no longer has an outlet.
Are we supposed to believe that just because a man such as Adolf Hitler rose to power had something to do with the fact that he was a failed artist? That is absolutely ridiculous. Hitler was insane – it had nothing to do with the fact that he had no outlet. Black people have been oppressed and victimized for way too many centuries, but very seldom have we resorted to violence. We have created music and we have protested and we have achieved much that way. But it would be impossible for us to become racist killers!!
Mr. Moore’s film absurdly states that there seems to be no loyalty, love, or hope for the black man in the United States or for the revolutionary artist – which, in case you don’t know, is now extinct. “As an Act of Protest” seems to follow the nationalist line of thought which struck me as odd because of Mr. Moore’s apparent admiration of poet Amiri Baraka. Mr. Baraka is a communist, not a Nationalist – he gave that Black Power nonsense up in the 1960’s.
I understand Moore’s thesis and I appreciate his willingness to reveal certain truisms about the black point-of-view regarding race and police brutality – but when Mr. Moore shows three Pig faces emerging out of the darkness ready to attack Cairo who can actually take him seriously? Cairo would have been endearing, if not so annoying. Every scene ends with him bowing his head or crying. I don’t know one black person who feels the racism around him that intensely.
Is Moore trying to say Cairo is a Christ figure? That the artist must suffer for the people? Moore seems to think that black people don’t exist outside of the context of being victims. Although the acting is moving at times, and Cairo’s dilemma’s sometimes gripping – I feel it is unhealthy to show a black man crying and emoting all the time. Black people are not that weak. And what is the movie’s answer to the apparent racist nightmare? Get revenge! Slay a white boy in a bathroom while the jungle drums of Africa beat in your head. It would actually be funny if it weren’t so silly.
When all is said and done, Moore fails because he falls into the same trap many black filmmakers seem to slip into: agiprop. Agitate. Propagate. Like the work of Haile Gerima or the boring Julie Dash – that’s all the movie seemed to do. I will say that the style of the film was in fact interesting, but there are many things Mr. Moore has yet to learn about filmmaking. The structure of his movie was too jagged, the film was vague about time and place, and contained way too much dialogue. Some scenes were annoyingly slowed down, which gave the film an off-beat, lopsided rhythm.
Like amateurs such as the “mighty” Cassavettes or video-artist Harmony Korine, Moore does not even use his camera with any intelligence and his lack of technique shows. The movie was basically a collection of long speeches and close ups. Does Moore think that he has to be “artistic” for a movie to be art? Does he feel he needs to be ponderous and so intense about his framing of ideas in order for it be art? Art exists for itself by itself. Above all, real art must be universal. This new director could learn a thing or two about balance and lighting from master Spike Lee and should try next time to explain himself better. Some scenes were so obscure and strange; I had no idea what was going on until several minutes into the scene!
This film will not make any sense to a white person, and if a black person does watch it – you better bring an obscure dictionary and get some food. This way you could look up all the strange references (Goethe, for example) while eating. Although, be careful if you eat during certain scenes, you may get so riled up you’ll choke! If Mr. Moore is trying to get the black audience in the seats – he should have learned what Spike Lee learned from “Bamboozled:” It’s not consciousness that we are looking for, it is entertainment.
(c) Copyright April 25, 2002
email@example.com for black film reviews
On Johnson’s Review of Protest
Marvin X Responds
Wed, 1 May 2002
A good review, but only a point of view, something to learn from and throw the rest out as bullshit. We must force consciousness, force thought in this thoughtless world of make believe and entertainment. Negroes got something out of Bamboozled even if they didn’t want to, and they can only benefit from As An Act of Protest. The main capitalists are still white, so Baraka hasn’t gone far from the 60s with his Marxism as opposed to Black Nationalism.
Gregory Johnson Answers Marvin X
Wed, 01 May 2002 1
I appreciate your response, but don’t you feel that Protest Art has run its course? If I am wrong why do so few theaters produce the works of Amiri Baraka or your own material? I understand that you have established your own company in Oakland or San Francisco I cannot remember, but isn’t “community” theatre and art programs angled for more a responsorial affect? I mean isn’t it for more base therapeutic reasons or political incitement rather than artistic? I do not mean to offend anyone, but I just feel that if black art is to be taken seriously, we should know how to balance our art and learn from other artists how they have polished and presented their pieces as formal work. Politics has no real place in art – only emotions.
In terms of music for example, would the rage of rap honestly be considered more artistic than, say, jazz? How could one compare the growling, sprawling creativity of Chuck D with the professionalism and ability of a Louis Armstrong? I don’t think preaching to black folks will change anything. And criticizing whites simply has got to stop. We must take responsibility – which I saw evident in Moore’s film. He says that clearly, but then he goes on to say that there is seemingly no way out besides violence. I mean, do you really feel that the fire is truly next time? That someone like Fanon, despite his considerable intellectual gifts, was right with the theories espoused in Wretched of the Earth? I think psycho-babble has its place, but so does good clean entertainment, which is what art is. Bringing people together does greater good than pulling people apart. . . .
If people benefited from “Bamboozled” I’d like you to tell me who (besides the already converted) because when I saw it in NYC, the majority of the audience left half way into the film. I’ve always been a Spike Lee fan – but his earlier works were better, tighter, had more heart. She’s Gotta Have It and School Daze and Do the Right Thing were far superior than Malcolm X, or Get on the Bus, for instance. Although, I did enjoy Summer of Sam — which he deserved an Oscar for. He proved that blacks can direct white actors very well. Although his artistry has seemed to have folded . . . Bamboozled and As an Act of Protest represent to me a stigma in the current independent black cinema. Moore is loud, belaboring, dark, and stylistically jagged like a knife.
Elder statesman, Spike Lee, has grown into a parody of what the black filmmaker is supposed to be. Although his craft is clean and well-planned; I feel he alienated his audience with “Bamboozled.” Likewise Moore, virtual unknown newcomer, is already attempting to choke people first without even getting to know them! He will ruin any commercial success if he continues to make work that seems to be too dense, an impenetrable for the layman. Black audiences are not sophisticated enough for that. In time, perhaps, but let’s be honest. Wouldn’t more folks read Terry McMillan or Stephen King before glimpsing Ellison, Joyce, Baraka, or Fanon? . . . So it is with movies. In the end, we have to remember: it’s only a movie.
Mister Greg Johnson
As An Act of Protest was written & directed by Dennis Leroy Moore and produced by Melissa Dymock, A John Brown X Production –
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”Lisa Adkins, University of London
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 1 July 2008