ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
An Epic Story of Cairo Medina, a Black Actor
The Most Daring Film Out Right Now
A Review of As An Act of Protest
By Rome Canaal
A new film by a young ambitious filmmaker has just begun to percolate within the New York City independent scene. This film is perhaps the most daring film out right now and this all because its director, Dennis Leroy Moore, has created a love poem as it were for his fellow black artists, and in particular, for the displaced, fragmented North American African Man. As An Act of Protest is less a narrative, and more of an experience. It was too much to comprehend after one viewing, but I would like to spread the word by announcing the brutality of the film – its emotional brutality. Seldom do we ever see black people rage and release like the characters in Mr. Moore’s film.
As a black man myself, I found it therapeutic to actually see black people discussing race and talking the way I have done with my friends and family. Mr. Moore makes absolutely no bridges for a white person to cross since the point of view of the movie is so rooted in the black psyche’ and this expressionistic landscape he engulfs us in makes it hard I would imagine for a white person to grasp the irony, humor, tragedy, and ritual of this film.
The movie is an epic story of Cairo Medina, a black actor, and his quest for self-realization and contribution to the revolutionary movement he desires to be a part of — very much like the creators of the Black Arts Movement such as Amiri Baraka, Marvin X, and the Last Poets. However, this film is set in the present and in this sense it is extremely modern and contemporary and Mr. Moore clearly shows the problems that face the new wave of black fine artists and theatre-folk in specific.
In 1965, Black Theatre meant one thing and accomplished things that, by today’s standards, seem mythic. Young artists, including myself, drool and dream of a movement such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. Abner Sankofa the young wild theatre director — played superbly by Mr. Moore himself, represents the gutted passion of the artist, the blind explorer unafraid of setting the stage on fire. He is the leader of black theatre troupe he and Cairo form and his journey dominates the first hour of the film.
Moore proves himself as an exceptional actor in addition to being an auteur. His Abner is intelligent, sharp, and has sealed his eyes on the prize; he is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on film: A manic black man who swaggers, swears, quotes Yeats one minute and the Last Poets the next, his rhythms are up and down – to say he is eccentric would be too easy. What he is is a real person with a dream. And this dream, this passion comes across his face powerfully. He is the strength that his friend and comrade Cairo Medina builds his platform upon.
Cairo, in a beautiful performance by Luis Laporte, is the opposite side of the coin. He is repressed, weary, and nervous. He suffers from an ulcer apparently that seems to represent the gnawing, draining, disease of racism. Cairo and Abner are easy targets for the White Supremacist Patriarchy – they are two young, healthy black men who are creative, not destructive and for all their tragic clichés’, Abner and Cairo threaten the status quo since they are not bouncing idiots out of an MTV video. Hype Williams would never know how to operate in Mr. Moore’s world — since Moore’s characters do not posture or worry about being liked or looking hip. They are concerned about survival.
There are a series of events that the characters, and most notably Cairo, go through. The film is really a collection of endings and mediations on racism, black manhood and definition, and the role of the artist. The first act ends with a board of white bankers taking over the Harlem theatre (an excellent comment on the gentrification of Harlem and the castration of the black voice) and we see Abner, the tough talking poet of the theatre, give up. Abner is crushed and this surprises us because of the change we see him go through. The scene works, however, because it shows another side of Abner – a realistic portrait of a dream squashed. When I look at Muhammad Ali now that is what I think of — a loud mouth who white folks loved when he finally was forced by his disease to shut up!
There is a mayor character in the film that obviously was a pained recognition of the Guiliani administration in NYC. The mayor exists solely on television in the movie – a brilliant technique since this is what it’s usually like in real life. We see The Mayor saying outrageous things on TV about race and foreign immigrants and police brutality and this is a constant thread through the film, which, within its second hour, gradually recedes more and more into itself; its fragmentation becomes less romantic and more physical as Cairo tries his best to be sane in an insane world.
The racism around him is too much, illogical, and violent in all ways. He’s lost his artistic outlet (the theatre), he’s constantly reminded by a barrage of media images of the lack of worth of the black man’s life, police sirens seem to bombard the film, and his relationship to his loved ones, and the world around him diminishes. It’s a cold world, underscored by a soundtrack of howling wind and dark interiors. The film takes on the quality of a horror movie by the time Cairo begs a well-known author and professor for help in dealing with the racism in the city. He admits he is confused by life, by America’s system, and that he needs help.
Ward Nixon portrays Professor Eastman in a chilly reptilian vain and Moore crafts the scenes at Eastman’s house with obscure long lenses (not unlike Spike Lee’s effect in the ridiculous “Crooklyn”) and a host of dialogue that anyone would find captivating, interesting, and annoying all at once.
My goal, however, is not so much to relay the narrative of the film as much as it is to express the journey and ingredients of the film as an artistic experience and political manifesto because Dennis Leroy Moore is obviously very concerned about the situation black artists suffer through, the turmoil black men go through to discover who they are, have been, could be, should be, and want to be without any influence of the Western world’s history, culture, and art. Of course this is, to a certain degree, impossible like DuBois mentions in his famous “double consciousness” theory.
There is a lot to this film, like a double album, or epic poem. The Hamlet association in the third act, when Cairo avenges the murder of his brother by killing the Mayor’s son – is like something out of Fanon where he writes about the only true baptism the black man will ever have is when the blood of the oppressor flows through his hands. The climax of the film is way too hard to describe since I felt an orgy of various emotions from joy to sadness to extreme guilt for even enjoying the image of Cairo in a bathroom slaying this innocent white boy whose father has caused him to be in the situation he is in.
Long, excessive, meditative, humorous at times — As An Act of Protest represents a new wave of Black Filmmaking in the United States. It is very New York, extremely paranoid, and unapologetic about its blackness. What I find fascinating is that it also seems to be a true “American” movie – it was produced by a white woman, Melissa Dymock, the founder of John Brown X Productions (a name which people seem to miss the connection on) and directed by a black man. And together, a watershed has broken through the stagnant annals of indy-cinema. Two people took a risk and I feel they should be applauded. The film contains various styles and homages from movies like “Taxi Driver” to Haile Gerima’s “Ashes & Embers.”
It is not a sterile film, and this will cause problems with distribution. Politically and aesthetic-wise I do not feel Mr. Moore will gain much support for this film, but I am told that La Lutta, the new media collective, Runako Gamba Distribution, and organizations such as the Brecht Forum will be lending their support in defense of the vision of this film.
There is a spiritual quality to this film most will overlook and that is a shame. The structure is quite radical if not somewhat aloof from the traditional narrative, the editing elliptical at times and the cinematography is anxious one half of the movie, and ponderous the second half. It matures like its characters do. Thank you, Mr. Moore. Will the black man please rise and take a bow?
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Monday: 5. 22.2002 Private Screening @ the Anthology Film Archives NYC
(c) Copyright April 23, 2002 Rome Canaal email@example.com
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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 5 January 2012