ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Kam interviews Dennis Moore
Director of As an Act of Protest
Catching up with the director of the best Black film of the year
By Kam Williams
Independent filmmaker Dennis Leroy Moore was born in Flushing, New York in 1976 and raised there by his parents, who hail from Port of Spain, Trinidad. With a background in classical theatre, Moore worked actively as a theatre director after leaving the Juilliard Conservatory in 1997. A member of LaLutta Media Collective, he is a proponent of a New Black Cinema that is at once personal and political, and which seeks to challenge the status quo in terms of the representation of Black people in movies. His first feature film, As an Act of Protest, is a baroque and scathing epic about the psychological effects of racism and the insanity it creates. It first premiered in Los Angeles at the 2002 Pan African Film Festival, and he is currently waiting to hear back from the FESPACO Film Festival (Africas largest and most important film festival, held in Burkina Faso).
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Kam Williams: How did you come up with the idea for the movie?
Dennis Leroy Moore: The killing of Amadou Diallo in 1998 had a major impact on me as did Guilianis entire reign of terror in NY. I was severely depressed because it seemed to me that racism was more accepted now than it had ever been and to deny that would be to deny reality. I wanted to create a film that was a missile from the angry, confused, and alienated Black youth in America and declare Yes, we are angry. We have a right to be and this is why. I basically wanted to make a film that was as bold as a Public Enemy record and as layered as a John Coltrane solo.
Kam Williams: How hard was it getting this movie made? What was involved?
Dennis Leroy Moore: It wasnt hard, but it was stressful. Anytime youre dealing with a dense script, seldom-seen emotions and ideas concerning Black people, and the dynamics of racism, youre going to have problems. But I had a wonderful producer, Melissa Dymock, and she trusted me and felt that we could easily raise at least half the budget and then max out credit cards for the other half. Where things got complicated was with hiring a crew. It took a lot of coaxing to get some of these film school brats to try different methods of filmmaking and adhere to my vision.
Kam Williams: How many other Black writers are there creating complex characters to tell as sophisticated stories?
Dennis Leroy Moore: In America there are only a few I know, but the problem is that most of them are unknown because they are not mainstream, Hollywood players. The ones that first come to mind are: Kasi Lemmons, Cauleen Smith, Wendell B. Harris, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, and Charles Burnett obviously. However, if Bill Gunn had lived and had been allowed to make the types of movies he wanted, he would have created an impressive body of work. His radical first feature, Ganja & Hess, is amazing. One of the most complex works of film.
Kam Williams: Why wasnt Hollywood interested in producing or distributing your film?
Dennis Leroy Moore: Because the film was perceived as being too Black and anti-white and the script was so dense and full of all these obscure Black theatre references. Also, theres no way anyone in Hollywood is going to support the murder of a white boy by a Black man at the end of a movie and have him get away with it. The ending was way too open-ended for Hollywood types.
Kam Williams: What message are you trying to deliver with this film?
Dennis Leroy Moore:If you oppress and push people to the edge, they will be forced to retaliate. The film is an expressionistic tableaux of Fanons Wretched of the Earth. And, if you take away the artists materials or ability to express himself positively and creatively, he will have no choice but to destroy.
Kam Williams: Do you see yourself a writer, actor or director first?
Dennis Leroy Moore: I have a singer-songwriter approach to the art of filmmaking. Im a director first, but I think I write well also. I think it is important for the director to create his own material. As an actor, Im just an extension of what I envision as a director. Some roles you realize you have to portray yourself because no else can do it as well as you.
Kam Williams: Where do you see yourself heading from here? To Hollywood to act in a typical TV sitcom?
Dennis Leroy Moore: Oh no, I would never be able to go to Hollywood and act. Especially in a sitcom. I dont think Id know how to market myself and I dont think theyd keep me around for my looks. Dont get me wrong, I want to make money like anyone else, but I never felt comfortable in those settings. Ive been hired to be the cinematographer for playwright Marvin Xs first feature film, Sgt. Santa, about a manic depressive Vietnam Vet, and Im still trying to interest some producers in a commercially-viable gangster screenplay, Goin a Buffalo, about a bunch of Black conmen, which is based on Ed Bullins original play. I also have just finished a script intended to be my next film called The Desperate Ones, about love, family, war, and suicide.
Kam Williams: Would you make another movie that might receive critical acclaim but cant get distributed?
Dennis Leroy Moore: Yes. I have to express myself and the minute you give up, theyve won. In a year, we hope to be selling and distributing copies of the film ourselves over the Internet and on the street. If I can incur some interest from the guys with long money thats great, but I cant wait around for Miramax to help me.
Kam Williams: Do you think Black people would support a movie like yours, if they knew it existed?
Dennis Leroy Moore: Yes. Some may not necessarily like it, of course, but I do believe the people will always take some interest in new works of art and different ways of representation.
Kam Williams: What do you think of most Black-oriented movies?
Dennis Leroy Moore:Obviously, the ones that Hollywood promotes as being Black movies are terrible. Insulting and backward on nearly every level. But, if you are patient and seek out work among the avant-garde and the independents, every now and then youll find a gem.
What is very important is that this new wave of Black filmmakers emerging really stretch their minds and cultivate dialogues regarding aesthetics of Black art. What this has meant historically is that they study everything under the sun from Oscar Micheaux to Melvin Van Peebles to Djibril Diop Mambety. For more information about As an Act of Protest, visit www.asanactofprotest.com. Moore and John Brown X Productions, LLC distribute the film, which is available for $30 for individuals and much less for media, arts, or educational organizations.
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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