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the film is a vindication and extension of the Black Arts Movement (BAM)

A Review  of As An Act of Protest

   

Books by Marvin X

Love and War: Poems  / In the Crazy House Called America / Woman: Man's Best Friend Beyond Religion Toward Spirituality

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Portrait of the Artist 

As A Revolutionary Black Man

By Marvin X

 

Dennis Leroy Moore's film could be titled Portrait of the Artist As A Revolutionary Black Man. In my review of Amina Bakeer's Bilalian, I concluded that all Muslims would be proud of her film. I will begin this review by saying all true Black artists will be proud this young man captured the agony and ecstasy of being a black artist in America, but more precisely, the film must be seen as a vindication and extension of everything the Black Arts Movement (BAM) was about, for it is an analysis of what BAM did and didn't accomplish. And of course BAM did not complete it's goal of revolution so the children who inherited the mantle of BAM are seeking answers to questions those of us who are a part of BAM left unanswered.

I had the pleasure of meeting Dennis Moore when he did a production of my first play Flowers for the Trashman in New York. Then I saw his production of Amiri Baraka's Dutchman. He enrolled in Julliard but dropped out, maybe for the reasons the characters discuss in the film that begins with the two main characters (Abner Sankofa and Cairo) confronting the dean of an art school who is dismissing them for not having the ability to perform white western art. This is almost a ritual act for black artists in white institutions. One is dismissed or one leaves on one's own in disgust because one's self is missing in the white western experience. This was true for me as a student at San Francisco State University, so even though the drama department produced my first play, I wasn't happy and dropped out to establish Black Arts West Theatre with Ed Bullins.  Dennis Moore wanted his own theatre as well, so did the character he plays, Abner Sankofa. This film is clearly autobiographical.

The film's focus is on Cairo the actor, but Abner is a character study of the mad director and I needed to go no farther than myself to reflect on Abner. We see him enraged before opening night, cursing and dismissing his actors for not revealing their best.

I've wanted to kill my actors for the same reason, but someone told me, "Marvin, if you kill them, you won't have anyone to do your plays." Abner throws his actors off the set and says he'll use cats, one of which is sitting on his shoulder. Of course, much of this mad action happens in any theatre, so it is not necessarily a black thang. And truthfully, nor is the fact that off Broadway and/or community theatre is eternally in a financial crisis as Abner found his theatre which ultimately was made homeless because the bank reclaimed the property.

Just this week while I've been here at the Pan African Film Festival, I received an email from Harlem's National Black Theatre director Dr. Barbara Ann Teer begging for help to save her property, and she's been one of the success stories in the BAM--she even has a street named in her honor--but she may be in the street before her show is over. As the film showed Abner fighting banker Gobbles--as in Nazi--someone in the audience shouted for him to do street theatre. 

But as BAM realized and as the film noted, we must own the property, we must own the land, otherwise, we will be forever at the whim of the landlord. In the film, the landlord objects to Abner 's production of Blues For Mister Charlie, even though the script was thirty years old. We see Abner 's producer JJ, double crossing as producers sometimes do because they are caught between art and economic realities--they know money talks and bullshit walks. So Abner and Cairo finally are without a theatre-- Abner goes home and Cairo goes crazy which we know doesn't take much for most artists, especially black ones. He already has an ulcer when we meet him and is so intense relaxation is a foreign word--his girlfriend is unable to cool him out: the racial atmosphere of New York (America) is too much for him. 

As BAM realized, Cairo saw the need to be actively involved in revolutionary struggle--the news of police killings was taking him into the zone and beyond. He receives counseling from his elder and one of BAM founders, Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets, who tells the young actor to use his art as a weapon, that he can be more influential than some revolutionaries if he keeps it real. Ironically, Bin Hassan is so busy sipping his Hennessey; we wonder if Cairo can take him seriously--was Director Dennis making a statement about sobriety with this scene. Alcohol seemed to be a problem throughout the movie to the extent that I can see using this film in my Recovery Theatre.

There is a good discussion of the class problem when Cairo is seeking direction in his life. His sees a black professor on TV and confronts him on the campus. The professor is in a rush, as per usual going nowhere, but attempts to placate the troubled actor with his book. The Prof invites Cairo to a forum but when the troubled artist arrives mistakenly on Thanksgiving at the prof's house, his bourgeoisie guests are so engaged and so uppity that they have little time for the bum looking actor seeking help. When Cairo points out the tenured nigguh's contradictions, his wife calls the police who escort him out the door.

When Cairo's brother is stopped by police and killed, Cairo decides to avenge the killing. Although Abner attempts to suggest another way, Cairo is determined. We hear lines from Baraka's Dutchman calling on the Black man to kill to redeem his manhood and Cairo follows the Dutchman in a bloody murder scene as the camera cuts between ballet dancers and the killing in a toilet. Dennis Moore is definitely a student of Baraka. 

I wish he had stopped the film with Baraka rather than Baldwin's Fire Next Time--it would have kept his film in the ideology of BAM rather than the Civil Rights movement, but as the director told me after the film, he wanted to throw everything he could throw into it. Sometimes this is known as overkill and Dennis is guilty. He should cut the Baldwin lines and let the film end as a statement of the Black Arts Movement which it essentially is. Not to take anything away from Baldwin but at the end Dennis tries to crossover and it doesn't work. As I said at the beginning of this review, this film is about the Black man as a revolutionary artist, so let it be.

As An Act of Protest was written & directed by Dennis Leroy Moore and produced by Melissa Dymock, A John Brown X Production -- visit www.asanactofprotest.com

(c) 2002 by Marvin X -- 2/17/02 Printed in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

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 Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s 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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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

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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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 12 March 2012

 

 

 

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