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My rudimentary understanding of history is that an artist denied could be the most dangerous

individual the world can face. A person who has nothing to live for is a person capable of anything.



A Strong Black Atavistic Image

A Review of As An Act of Protest

By Joshua Kibuka & Sharon Gates


As an Act of Protest: An Epic Story of a Black Actor is a film written, directed, as well as acted in, by Mr. Dennis Leroy Moore. It is a compelling film that induced emotional experiences that were, by turns pleasurable and painful, and at times, both.

I would like to open by stating that As an Act of Protest challenges me to reexamine the complex, but yet deceptively simplistic images of the Black Man in traditional Western cinema. It attacked the basic underpinnings of imagery and idols built in my mind by the western educational system. Whether it is the docile, noble Negro man or the large, frightening, sexually threatening black man -- by an in large in American mainstream cinema directed by white males -- black men, in particular, come off as abstractions as not real, true complex human beings. 

Think of the majority of the black Hollywood stars. Then think of the films with black actors in them. then compare those movies to the ones actually helmed by black writers and directors. the difference is like the moon and the sun. And As an Act of Protest is a cinematic gem that fits neatly onto the crown of black films that seek to subvert the system and destroy all perception one may have had about the lack of humanity and complexity of the African American.

In this opening scene we see the two main characters of the film, Cairo Medina and Abner Sankofa, leave an acting conservatory not unlike the Julliard School, or as they call it "the plantation," to pursue those images of self that are neglected within the European ideal. They gallantly confront the dean of the school about the labels that are part and parcel of western images: (1) "The liberal accepted African Americans only because he expected them to want to emulate him. The white liberal, in other words, was standing up not for what was right, but what for himself was  right." This is represented eloquently with Crowell, who infers that they (black actors) "don't have the chops" to, as Abner interrupts," "play a white man!" The argument of this moment is simply represented, that these images of self center on the Universal Joint of Race.

The Universal Joint of Race is the dynamic relationship between whites and black in America. To be clear, the machine of society contains parts, which have two divergent components. One of these parts is white and the other black. Both parts are not in line with each other. these two parts or societies of the machine are both influenced by a coupling of western imagery. That imagery and its manifestations have been discussed briefly as representational with a historic foundation, above. This is a coupling that both parties have imbibed over time. The genesis of this interaction was born of Slavery and the Reconstruction, to our present reality. The myth of race, which has functioned ironically as representational images, has been and continues to be employed by mass media. Those representational images have manifested as images of white supremacy as well as images of black peoples' subservience, towards the machine of society. This forces Blacks to try to develop beyond any concept of a Universal Joint of Race.

In other words, to develop beyond the codified images that is part and parcel of a supposed representation of black people. What is also represented masterfully in this film is the struggle black people face between moving beyond the imposed self-image, projection, and mask laid on and created by the condition of the external white system and the desire to move beyond and create a new language, myth, form, and icon of self representational images.

As an Act of protest does not have the ability to answer this conundrum in its totality but allows for a stage where these images of self can be confronted and challenged. A stage where an act of protest can be conceived.

Having been forced to develop beyond this concept black people also have tried to create dynamic representations of the Black spirit of the black man and women. That spirit is action, as the title of the film indicates, and not the images that have been foisted on the Black psyche in the physique of a Bagger Vance named Will Smith or a slow simple giant with spiritual powers as in the Green Mile. We do not create these representational images. They are not the totality of our condition. As in plays throughout American history, the depiction of black people in film has always ended with the death of the black character.

This of course occurs in Frank Darabout's 1999 Hollywood hit The Green Mile when the black character is finely executed. Another image that I also found disturbing was that of the Bubba character from the rather idiotic Forrest Gump. To be subjected to this character was demoralizing to say the least. He was even worse than Tom Hanks, if one can actually imagine that. A dumb white man comes off as being a cute sorry man. A dumb black man never even seems like a man -- he's an "it." A thing.

This character, and many others like it, show the black man as a large and uncomplicated man who could not hurt anything, despite the fact that he is in a war, fighting for his life. There is a hatred one develops for this bubba character -- this large, big lipped, lovable, bear-like man. No intellectual depth, no complicated emotional response. Was Malcolm X intellectually shallow? Was Billy Holliday emotionally uncomplicated? Is any real human being truly as shallow as Hollywood expect us to think? Hollywood relegates the image of the black man to one that is easily digestible by the whole public. Any thing more is not marketable, which is why Spike Lee's Malcolm X sacred the hell out of the studios even though they had been wanting to make a movie on Malcolm since the 1960s. 

One wonder what that fiasco would have been like. Spike Lee didn't produce a masterpiece, but he certainly got Denzel to give the performance of his life. -- despite a tenuous, weal script. As an Act of Protest gives us deep characters with deep thoughts. And it usually takes a black director to project that depth of himself and his people as opposed to a white man. The typical white director's view of the black man is that he is just a supporting character that helps the white director through a moment of spiritual crises. (Legend of Bagger Vance, the Green Mile, Finding Forrester, etc.) The forgiving angel. A creature with supernatural powers of forgiveness with just a touch of malevolence. 

That's precisely what I'm talking about! The black man has to be the bridge to the white man's understanding -- Cairo in As an Act of Protest

The stereotypical Hollywood Black man is nowhere to be seen in As an Act of Protest. The reason for this is that the characters, the people in this film were not conceived in Holly-weird; they are spiritual descendants from the mighty drama of the Black Arts Movement. Characters such as Cairo, Abner, Karen, JJ, and professor Eastman have a wealth of emotional depth and their intellectual wells have not run dry. For instance, the central figure of the film, Cairo, poignantly represented by Luis Laporte, is epitomized as a thoughtful young man who is in search of a finite truth, personal as well as universal, and about the condition of racism in society. Cairo is mercurial, intense, and sensitive. Cairo is the Christ figure in the film, and an eternal sufferer.

If the artist suffers and represents and fights for the people, he is many ways Christ-like. It has nothing to do with being chaste, or "good," or holy or any of that nonsense. It has to do with purity of intention, of dreams, of belief in man. The filmmaker seems to deal with this Christ issue in a more abstract way, but if one looks hard at the film -- the Christ imagery abound.

For Moore, Christ, religion, and the spiritual crisis that racism spawns are extremely  important and they affect how his characters act, think, and breathe. the opening of the film sets up the quasi-spiritual, semi-religious tone of the next two and a half hours.

A theatre dissolves into a church and the association between the two is made clearly and simply as we hear Abner's voice-over, "I think Cairo gave up on the theatre the way one gives up on religion . . . ." Abner then goes on to say that what we are about to witness is a spiritual death, :an artistic suicide." Convoluted perhaps, but this amount of intellectual mystery is usually vacant in Hollywood's treatment of "black" stories and themes as opposed to what has been masterfully explored in classic black American cinema by directors like Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Gordon Parks and films such as the enigmatic Ganja & Hess by Bill Gunn.

In the beginning of the movie we literally see a stained glass window of Christ on the cross, and then we go on to what is really Moore's own take on the story of Christ. of the mighty sufferer. It could have been Gandhi or Malcolm X, John Brown, or Joan of Arc. Instead, we got Cairo Medina and a different context of specific examples of the Man of Color's plight.

I say Man of color because -- although it is anchored in the idiom of the African-American experience with racism -- Moore very subtly alludes to our Middle Eastern and African brethern. The lead character's name is Cairo medina for heaven's sake. very clever. Cairo is the capitol of Egypt, and Medina is the holy city of Saudi Arabia [the site of the tomb of the prophet Mohammed]. Likewise, his friend's name is Abner Sankofa. Nee i go further? Sankofa is an Ethiopian word which means to go back in order to understand. 

Push this a step further we see how Moore makes the connection between the Black American, the African, and the Arab. he plays the role of Abner himself and Dennis Moore's face itself could easily be any (or all) of these types of people. He bends the traditional look and feel that we are to have about what is or not a black man. A black man is, obviously, many different things. And he consists of many different thoughts and feelings. We are not any more homogenous than any other race. We all don't think, talk, or look the same. We can even be originally smooth and weighty in our quest for romance.

In an early scene between Cairo and his girlfriend Karen, played by Crystal Mayo in a tight and grossly underrated performance, there is some flirtation revolving around a discussion of art, consciousness, and integrity.

Karen: That would be great. To really have your own theater.

Cairo: It's the only way for us to be culturally anchored. A place where black people can go to be conscious.

Karen: Conscious? You just make sure if you make money, you hire lots of brothers and sisters and don't lose your soul.

Cairo: I won't lose mine if you don't lose yours.

I found the relationship between Cairo and Karen wonderfully represented and yet, that last time, and other moments, is a foreshadowing of the inevitable disintegration of their relationship. As much help and support that she provides she still manages to hurt him.

Shortly after Karen and Cairo first meet backstage after a performance of Cairo and Abner's play Animal in Man, a foreshadowing of things to come and a nod to the song by hip hop radicals Dead Prez, they head to a bar to talk and get to know each other. however even in this early scene, Moore takes no time to build a corny first date scene, but instead bombards the viewer with a split attention on Karen at first, and then the Mayor making ridiculous justifications for the murder of this black man -- just flash across the screen in an MTV like montage that reels with the sound of avant-garde jazz music by none other than the master himself Charles Gayle.

As Gayle's saxophone wails away, Karen's voice gets drowned out by the madness and Cairo's attention is no longer on this beautiful intelligent woman but on this ugly racist man in the TV. Karen talks about becoming a successful actor and what Cairo should do for his career and Cairo is engulfed in the city's rising political and racial volatility. The scene ends with a rising climax of glass shattering and then cuts into Cairo's apartment, where he and Karen are now watching the Mayor on a home TV. No longer in the bar, it's as if time has frozen and the Mayor still seems to  be yapping as Cairo and Karen's evening is winding down. 

It is a strange cut and interesting manipulation of time and space, which becomes a convention in the film. Moore seems to be obsessed with temporal dislocation and eventually the world of the movie becomes so claustrophobic and vague, that you begin to really feel the madness itself of what racism can do to you. Moore is not concerned about physical setting as much as he is concerned about emotional setting.

So the following scene opens with the sound of breaking glass. Cairo has broken a glass in his hand and the shards have cut him. He doesn't seem to feel it because he is so intent on what the Mayor is saying. While Cairo continues to stare at the television screen with the voice of the mayor occasionally intruding, Karen attempts to clean his wound, but instead hurts him when she tries to bandage the cut. Although a small scene I find that there is much significance in its subtleties.

Shortly after we dissolve back into the American Black Theater (ABT) in Harlem, and we can see the loose and tenuous ground that the community theater treads on when  J.J., the theater's producer, demands money upfront from Abner, despite the success of the previous play "Animal in Man" to do James Baldwin's classic Blues for Mr. Charlie, which is slated to be their next production. I know the front lines start here . . . Abner in As an Act of Protest.

As a symbol, the community theater stands for the dual nature of black people. The desire to act out what society has disallowed the black person to exercise outside the arenas. Whether it's the sports arena or amphitheater. Interestingly Mr. Moore shows the pure desperation and frustration that these two artists have in trying to make their vision live. While watching I asked myself, "What if they are not allowed or able to create their art?" 

My rudimentary understanding of history is that an artist denied could be the most dangerous individual the world can face. A person who has nothing to live for is a person capable of anything. Malcolm X surmised that it was surprising how black people had not turned violent under Christianity, but I believe that the limited social ability of black people to express themselves has stymied this reaction. This is no longer the case dues to technology. This generation will not succumb to the crumbs offered by white society. If we cannot have what is ours there are other avenues of statement. Not as pleasant but equally effective.

Abner: I just don't understand how the American Black Theater, the only one of its kind in New York -- in Harlem -- is sitting, shitting bricks in the dark cause it doesn't know if it's going to be here in tomorrow. And every black Hollywood actor I hold responsible. Because if these sellouts really cared, they would be doing something to preserve our cultural institutions. they would pave way for new ones. Bullshit! They want to talk about keeping it real. Brothers wanna go downtown, and open up a theater while this place sits here like an abandon church. And here we are sitting in the Matrix. It's a fucking joke!

J.J.: Abner chill . . . the situation is hard. because to do . . . in order to get an audience together for a black play you have to be in a central location . . . people ain't going uptown to see no play . . . Now, in order to go on with this man. They (the Board) got to see upfront monies coming in. It will also show the Board that you're serious.

Abner:  That I'm serious? Always got to prove to white people that I'm serious. And then when they see my work, they say I'm too serious. No. No. (He turns to leave)

J.J.: You don't know business Abner. I'm not asking for much. Just a compromise.

Abner: That's Bullshit. (He walks up to J.J., lighting changes to a harsh red light) J.J., you can either do great theater or great compromises. You stick to the latter. That's what you're good at.

J.J.: Keep it up. Keep it up. You'll never make it man. You two guys are the biggest bunch of clowns.

This scene perfectly illustrates the character of J.J., played in an excellent performance by Stephen Dye, who endowed J.J. with many redeeming qualities, even though you end despising him by the end of the first hour of the film.. Dye's naturally melodic voice and imposed pompousness is a fine match for Moore's portrayal of Abner, who is full of pride, suspicion, and a handful of great one-liners. Dye and Moore creating great sparks on camera and their dynamic verbal sparring  is exacting to watch. At time their scenes resemble something out of a Mamet play. And if Mamet were black, these are characters he probably would have been interested in.

J.J.'s main concern centers around his own position, which he knows is quite tender. As a result he will force Abner and Cairo to walk the green mile. To become as ruthless as he is. To forsake any idealism or romance or creative ambition and become attuned and accepting of the sick White Supremacist Patriarchy and all of its Capitalist fanfare. In short, he wants them to show that like him they are "serious" in the eyes of the white power system. 

Abner is already let down by J.J. by the tail of this scene and it simply becomes the first of three strikes Abner holds against his "brother" J.J., who like Brutus on Caesar, betrays Abner later on. Again, the complexity of the characters and their interrelations with each other is what Moore creates exceptionally well, and despite some overwritten passages -- the dialogue ebb and flows like the shore of a beach. It is constantly moving, and bopping up and down, and taking us on a jazzy ride into the bowels of the Harlem community's reality, as well as that of the black artist.

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

(c) The Complexity of Character May 4, 2002 by Joshua Kibuka & Sharon Gates

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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.     

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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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