interview with Dennis
York-based experimental guerilla filmmaker
Leroy Moore is a native New Yorker and was born on February 19,
1976 in Flushing, Queens. He is an actor, writer, theatre
director, and filmmaker. He has written in-depth essays on black
film – “Notes from the Underground,” as well as “Parable
of a Man Crucified” about Marvin X’s video-drama One
Day in the Life. His theatre credits include works by
Amiri Baraka, Samuel Beckett, and Bertolt Brecht; James
Baldwin’s classic “Blues for Mister Charlie” as well as
early obscure one-act plays by Tennessee Williams.
first feature film As an Act
of Protest is a disturbing film about an actor who
goes through a “stations-of-the-cross journey” in hopes of
discovering an ultimate way to rid the world of colonization,
racism, and police brutality. The film debates the power and
relevancy of art in times of extreme oppression. It first
premiered in February 2002 at Los Angeles’ Pan African Film
Festival. It was produced by Melissa Dymock of John Brown X
* * *
was the genesis behind As an Act of Protest and how did the
project first come together?
was a long process. In a certain way, I suppose the most honest
statement I could make about the film’s inception is that it
took twenty-four years to make it because that’s how old I was
when I wrote it. It was the totality of my experience as a black
man, as a young artist, as a very sensitive kid. The idea itself
– the conscious dramatic storyline - was something I had toyed
with in my head for years. I always liked the metaphor of the
Actor and I always thought a story about a black actor would be
an interesting movie. It was always very general, though.
was nineteen and going through my first big bout with
depression, I read James Baldwin’s “Tell Me How Long the
Train’s Been Gone” and while I was being treated in a
hospital I made notes for a movie about an actor. I had never
studied filmmaking nor did I even have the desire at that time
to make a film, but I knew it would be a logical extension of my
theatre work. Film, theatre – those are just the specific
mediums. A visual artist could work on canvas, he could use oil,
acrylics, watercolor – doesn’t matter. He’s a painter
first and foremost – it just gets more specific with each
individual artwork. Sometimes you know something won’t work
for you in color so you use black and white. Or maybe you’re
not feeling clay, so you use something else, you know? As a
director, if you’re like me – it’s just a matter of
feeling the medium to direct the piece. Is it live or more
cinematic? Those are always the impressions I begin with.
you wrote the piece over a period of years?
not literally, no. The specifics of the film – the themes of
manhood, Christ, racism, Cairo’s entire arc of experience –
these specifics were cultivated after I had gotten over the
first tidal wave of immediate inspiration. For example, I knew
after the Diallo incident that I had to stage Blues
for Mister Charlie at the National Black Theatre in
Harlem. I simply had to address that incident and found the
perfect metaphor with Richard in Blues.
After the Diallo Trial and the verdict and all that – my anger
and resentment towards the American system had reached its peak.
I hated, absolutely hated
Guiliani and began to evaluate things from that part of my life,
the overtly political side of myself. I was always against many
things. But you see in the summer of 1999 I was really trying to
figure out what I was for.
So the piece began to develop out of my anxieties about
my life, my future, my art. Even my “career” – whatever
that means. And when those personal feelings and doubts crossed
paths with my innate sense of right and wrong and my political
convictions, I knew I had a script. I sat down and wrote for a
week straight. I just vomited the whole thing up. My goal was to
be direct, honest, and completely real about expressing what I
was going through. I made a lot of enemies just after I wrote
the script. Some of my white friends thought I was nuts and too
militant and some of my black friends and artists of color just
felt it was too weird and too personal. Not funny, enough. Not
enough entertainment. That sort of stuff.
did your producer, Melissa Dymock think of it? How did you get
had always been involved with me ever since the summer of 1998.
She produced Blues for
Mister Charlie without knowing a stitch about
theatre, which is an incredible thing. I always considered her a
maverick, because she’s got instincts, guts and moves like a
warrior. I find it funny that she’s this Southern white woman,
and I’m a Northern black kid from the Caribbean and together
we made something. She’s a simple working class woman who has
always wrestled with the odds – in school she had a learning
disability, her demeanor was different, etc.
So she understood
my artistic nature and was comfortable around artists since she
was an architect. She’s an artist herself, but denies it.
She’s worked in construction, you see. But that experience of
creating buildings added to her impression of what her role as a
producer was and could be. She’s a damn good producer. She’s
loyal and we’re very passionate about what we do. However, the
stress and the mania that I partially am responsible for during
the shoot, I think, tapped her out. She still holds things
It’s very complicated when two close people really
work with each other. It’s like a marriage that can slowly
begin to crumble if you both have egos and if you both are
insecure. But, anyway, I told Melissa about a script I was
writing loosely based on my life and then I added the whole
Diallo and Hamlet-revenge association and she really liked it.
She laughs cause she never actually read the script until the
last minute. I ‘ll never forget when she called me up one
evening crying – telling me that she liked what she read and
that we had to do this piece or at least die trying.
She felt it
was very contemporary and probably had the closest idea of what
I was trying to do. Also, the wardrobe artist and actress Angie
Saidel – she’s an artist from Germany – she had amazing
insight into my concept. She played the French banker, Madame
Dupree and was amazing. After Umar from the Last Poets, they
were the closest artists or people in tune with script.
So…yeah, Melissa was very supportive. And even though we were
at each other’s throats by the time we finished “Blues”
– we still worked together.
you were still close after Blues -
and I were extremely close after Blues, but after the experience
of doing the play at the National Black Theatre I was very
depressed because my dream of a permanent theatre company was
ruined. I was very angry, very resentful and it strained all my
exactly happened at the National Black Theatre? Why did you
sever ties with them?
hate talking about this because I’m the one who always gets in
trouble, but I’ll tell you the little I know and what I think
is closest to the truth. One, they (National Black Theatre) were
in a huge financial hole and in dire straits, they were nervous
the banks would take their building and Two, they hated my
methods, my emotionality. I was really just like the character I
play in Protest.
Abner’s entire character was a very conscious projection and
satire of who I actually was
when I was at that time directing plays.
I was crazy, you know? But I was alive – full of energy
and ideas. That’s how all young people are supposed to be.
problem, however, is outside of Music or the Sports world –
black men are not allowed to be so positively self-absorbed and
celebratory. We’re not allowed to be energetic unless we’re
running for the white man on a basketball court. They are not
allowed to strut their stuff, so to speak. They’re not allowed
to take their work and their lives as serious and complex like a
singer is able to. Or the way Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant are
entitled to. Not to knock sports, but give me a break. A
writer’s sense of self, arrogance, determination, and talent
when it comes to him expressing his ideas and feelings is ten
times more important or useful to humanity that some jock
throwing a ball and getting all emotional about it. Let’s be
you feel that art should receive the same attention that
mainstream sports do?
a trick question…But yes, I think if people could actually
talk about and debate art the way they could sports, things
would be a lot different. Not necessarily better – but our
culture wouldn’t be as trashy and stupid as it is…When I was
doing nothing but snorting loads of cocaine and debating how to
kill myself these were the very thoughts running through my
head. And it depressed me, because then you start believing that
you have to compete with the machine. With the mainstream. As a
relatively sane and smart person, I never could comprehend the
whole capitalist side of art. I always felt that money and art
cancelled each other out. It’s like love and attorneys.
reason I reject the whole institution idea of marriage is that
if it doesn’t work out, some one has to pay money. As if you
could actually compare your life, your blood, your love or hate
for another person with money! That’s insane to me. Likewise
in art, the whole idea of having contracts for example is
ridiculous to me. Do Shamans have contracts with their tribes?
Do Punk Bands and Rap groups have contracts with each other? No,
they get together cause they understand one another. They can
vibe off of each other. Contracts
are for business. I completely resent the fact that I have to
even consider business when I’m directing a play or writing a
we need to have money, don’t we? I understand what you mean
but don’t you think the more money and power an artist has
access to - the
not. So, Michael Jackson is a trillionaire.
Who cares? Has that really improved his music? No. He’s flown
around the world, but that means nothing if he isn’t feeling
anything. I think he’d be the same genius if he were poor. In
fact, he’d be healthier if he were less rich. He wouldn’t be
this freak that
we come to know him as. But you never know, actually. He’s
probably always felt that way. I can relate on that level, cause
I’ve always been the odd man out myself.
not serious about that are you? Why would you consider yourself
I say that because it’s true. I been the freak my whole life.
I’m 26 years old and I’ve got nothing to show for it, which
I find pathetic. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s not and
I’m trying to deal with it. I can’t seem to sustain healthy
relationships with women, I always scare them off. I don’t
know how to make money. I’m constantly borrowing and begging.
I know a lot of flaky people, so what does that say about me? I
don’t know how to make friends. My social skills suck. I want
desperately to have my own theatre company, but could never find
anyone to join or help me. I felt real lonely from the age of
sixteen and on. I could never be myself, and then when I was
myself I was hated. I seemed weird to people because I was
emotional and read a lot, and had a very mixed eclectic family.
I was a loner. I lied to make friends and indulged in art in
order to express truth. What do you think As
an Act of Protest is really about? If you really look
at it - it’s about living on the fringes of society. And those
who are sensitive, those who want truth at any cost will suffer
and be persecuted. That’s where all that clunky Christ imagery
came into play.
it was sort of convoluted. The second time I saw it in NY it
made sense though.
the thing about art. Or like a good book - with every reading,
you get something new from it. Sometimes things click –
associations, imagery, subtle jokes. Sometimes they just leap
out and you realize what was there all that time. I love that. I
think pure art contains that and doesn’t have signposts
telling you instantly WHAT TO FEEL. That’s my chief complaint
with Hollywood films. They insult the audience and we accept it.
I’ll never understand that. Might as well be real about it and
go to an S&M club. I suppose I’d rather have a sexy matron
insult me with a lion’s tail and have my own fantasies, rather
than go to a movie and be teased by some fat Hollywood producer,
who is only projecting the warped thoughts of the White Male. I
don’t mean to paint such a vulgar picture, but that’s what
film an extension of the voyeur? Aren’t all filmmakers
indulging and revealing their fantasies?
but it would be nice to experience different
fantasies. You see, Hollywood pumps out drugs – eye candy,
stuff that doesn’t mean anything. It’s sole purpose is to
give a kind of Great Adventure experience and cool effects and
stuff you’d see tripping on Acid or whatever. There’s no
humanity, nothing real about it. I read a poet like Langston
Hughes or Kalamu ya Salaam or Sylvia Plath, and get all these
different meanings and layers of life and experience. Some I
relate to, some I don’t. But I always get chills up my spine
when I read them – because they are revealing themselves to
me. They are making themselves vulnerable. And that’s real
art. There must be an emotional risk involved, if not a literal
who would you say is a Poet of the Cinema?
don’t ask me this…Okay, let’s see…First and foremost
Charles Burnett, John Cassavetes, Julie Dash, Abbas Kirostami,
Lars von Trier, Raoul Peck, Haile Gerima…Bill Gunn was
certainly a master. Ingmar Bergamn, Satyajit Ray, Djibril Diop
Mambety. He’d probably like that, though…Even big filmmakers
like Oliver Stone, Scorsese, Coppola. Sidney Lumet was always
one of my favorites, as well as Robert Bresson, Hitchcock, and
Costa Gavras. Melissa turned me on to Fassbinder and he was
great, also…I could go on and on…
do you think of Harmony Korine?
like his aesthetic, what he’s doing with film is important.
But unfortunately, he’s just a bratty, screwed up white boy.
His politics frighten me, so do his movies. Which is not a bad
thing, because I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t perhaps the
most innovative American filmmaker whose broken into the
mainstream without forsaking his identity. He’s a real artist.
His last picture Gummo,
was a dogme 95 experiment and it was insane. Werner Herzog loves
him though, so I guess he is truly validated.
you ever heard of Naeema Barnett?
I saw her film Civil Brand
in Miami at the American Black Film Festival, at Melissa’s
request. I think she is a major talent in terms of latent
ability. And Civil Brand
was commercial enough to get picked up, so I hope it gets
released. I think if she continues on and develops working with
new and younger actors, she’ll be exactly what black actresses
need to have – an intelligent, fiery, female director! What I
like about her is that even though her sensibilities are very
commercial, she’s still expressing her own feelings and
about Spike Lee?
is a damned good craftsman.
And of course he was a major inspiration to me growing up.
He’s our Steven Speilberg
because everyone knows who he is and they know what to
expect; his name is more famous than his actual work. But I
don’t know if he’s a real artist, though…Although with
“Bamboozled,” I thought he cracked the shell wide open, so I
guess he is. It’s just that al his stuff is so overtly
self-conscious and never feels really personal to me. I’m
suspicious of his intentions politically, and I hate the fact
that all his films seem so cartoony. But, look, he’s developed
and grown and I look to him to see how an artist can grow in
mainstream filmmaking. What I find interesting is that he made a
full circle already, which I think is impressive.
mean going from “She’s Gotta Have It” to “Bamboozled”?
Regardless of what anyone thinks about Spike Lee, he has a
singular vision and he is growing, unafraid to experiment.
Before “Bamboozled,” the only thing I liked was “Get on
the Bus” which I thought was very radical.
the most progressive thing a black filmmaker can do is show
black men of all ages and colors relating
to each other. Talking to one another like human beings. Brecht
said “Art is not a mirror to hold up to reality, but a hammer
with which to shape it.” Sometimes in art you have to project
what you would like to see happen. Remember, most people still
have a skewered view of black men. We’re not real
to many people, we’re not human and intelligent or
as deep as white men are. This is what Hollywood movies purport.
So to be radical is to show our complexities, simple as that.
Black people are not buffoons, not simpletons, not savages, and
not holy noble-types like some of those silly Sidney Poitier
movies. I am convinced that if we can represent one another like
the human beings we really are, some of our problems would go
away. I’m not saying this is an answer to anything, but I do
know that if some director made a real heart-aching black love
story it would be the most phenomenal thing. We don’t see
ourselves loving each other and that has become detrimental to
our mental health.
Now you have mentioned several things I want to address. First,
let’s rewind. I originally asked you about the convoluted
Christ imagery. You were making a parallel to fringe thinkers,
lone individuals against society-types with Jesus Christ. Tell
me more about this.
mentioned Christ because if you really think about it – he’s
the ultimate revolutionary. He was the first Communist. I mean
that in the truest sense. And he is a model of what the artist
himself goes through. I’m not saying I’m God, I’m saying
that we are all part of Christ, though. Artists know what its
like to risk their necks. Like revolutionaries or teachers or
even a real athlete whose trying to stretch the bounds of their
talent for humanity. We feel if we are right then we must be
bold enough to take all the blows. So I mean Christ-like in the
sense of believing in our cause, in what we preach – not being
the son of God or anything. I don’t want this to seem too
loony. But it
probably will come off sounding strange anyway, so I guess it is
what it is, right?
valuable are money and options to you?
you believe that there could be a balance?
But it’s hard. I hope to achieve it one day, though.
go back to “As an Act of Protest.”
I want to discuss the style and aesthetic of the movie in
conjunction with its content. You definitely have your own
unique style as an artist, and the film seems to contain several
different styles within itself.
form follows function. And I do employ different methods to
express different scenes.
you seem to meander into different forms at times, but it all
comes together. For instance, the scene at Professor Eastman’s
house are very extreme and expressionistic as opposed to that
scene where Cairo comes home to find Karen and the white girl
drunk. That whole sequence was so bizarre and real it almost had
a documentary feel.
it’s a real mixed bag. For that Eastman scene we used ultra
long lenses and stretched it out when we were editing. That
other scene was shot hand-held in the midst of the action with
natural light. Incidentally, that scene where Cairo goes home
and finds the girls drunk is one of my favorite scenes. I like
it because emotionally-speaking its very real. People seem
stumped by it, but I like it.
have to admit I was stumped. But when I saw it again I realized
that I’ve been through similar situations, particularly in a
mixed-race atmosphere. My boyfriend in College was white and I
remember during the OJ trial, I went off on him several times
about the racism in this country. I made him feel guilty and
seemed to have blamed him for everything. I was immature, but it
is a truism that exists. Sometimes we get so frustrated with the
system we lash out on our loved ones, even more so if they are
It bothers people that scene. It is there to expose what really
goes on in the mind of a frustrated, conflicted, beaten down
black man. And I did it to rile up some people, and annoy the
rest. That’s the part of the movie that most people begin to
question what the point is. Which is stupid to me, the point is
whatever it is that you are seeing. No one ever asks what’s
the point of a verse in a song or no one ever asks what the façade
of a house is supposed to mean. We are obsessed with definitions
and people can’t accept sometimes that what you see is what
you get. Cairo is angry and confused. That’s it, it doesn’t
get any deeper. Why is he that way? Well, look at the world
he’s living in.
about excess? Is that something you’re drawn to?
in a way. I suppose that’s right…But to be honest I don’t
like to say excess because it relates to being decadent, so it
has a more negative connotation…I mean the way I look at it is
that I was very conscious that it was my first film, so at times
I felt I needed to prove how creative I could be. That’s the
main thing a lot of filmmakers wrestle with on their first film.
You feel you have to prove yourself all the time. It was
overkill I admit, but I think the style that evolved was really
magical and fit for the film…
an Act of Protest” goes from one extreme to the next. Soft,
then hard. Comedic, then tragic. Slow, then fast. I think that
was one of the best things about the film.
Also, the blending of the real and the surreal…But I
want to ask you if you find your style or at least this
particular work ‘oppressive’ in any way.
meaning harsh? Yes. I think my work is always a little
oppressive on the audience cause I want them to think. I tend to
be excessive as Protest proves,
but really I think the work is oppressive because of the
emotional elements and truths involved. Yes,
racism exists, yes
black people can be profound, yes
young people do have minds and are angry, yes
– sometimes life does
suck. And one thing does
inform the other, it’s all connected. People hate
that, though because it makes them have to absorb and think
every second of the scene. If they hate that it’s because they
are not used to it. But that’s too bad, we have to learn how
to be mature adults and watch adult movies. I mean the same
folks who tell their eight-year old kids not to eat with their
hands are out their watching “Austin Powers.” It makes no
you consider yourself angry?
I’m frustrated. I get angry sometimes, but I don’t walk
around being angry.
you like to get married? Do you see yourself as a family man?
I can’t even take care of myself, I’d freak out if I had
kids. Marriage is something that I can’t really see either. I
think it’s hard to stay with one woman and commit, but if I
met the right Lady I suppose I’d be singing a different tune.
And it’s less about me, and more about the woman. Most women
can’t hang with me too long, I become too much for them and
not as involved in their lives as they’d like.
you think all artists are like that?
think you have to self-involved to an extent because you are the
source of your work. However, it does happen that artists meet
and fall in love. We’re human beings, aren’t we? And
everyone knows artists make the best lovers…when we’re not
bitching and moaning that is!
the current situation regarding “As an Act of Protest”?
still screening it at the Anthology Film Archives each month in
lower Manhattan and it’s scheduled to close the Brecht Forum
Film Festival on Monday, September 23rd.
We have some screenings scheduled end of this year,
early 2003 in New Orleans, North Carolina, and Baltimore.