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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
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.
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
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
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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
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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