A Brother’s Whisper: An Astonishing Directorial Debut

Dalcoe & Ayende as the tortured Husband and Wife in A Brother’s Whisper

Brooklyn auteur Jacinto Taras Riddick offers a new vision in his deceptively simple chamber drama starring Che Ayende, Lekethia Dalcoe, James T. Alfred, and the director himself. Seething with the biblical urgency of James Baldwin, the tension of Harold Pinter, and transgression of Pasolini — A Brother’s Whisper has consecrated a fresh tone of Black drama and American cinema that emphasizes dramatic conflict, acting, and blurs the tenuous line between commercial and avant-garde cinema. It is a modern classic that has looked back in order to go forward – and has changed my life. You can read my review for the Luminal Theater’s Wavelengths here.

Visual Liberation: Where It All Began

Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s “Ways of Seeing”


Visual Liberation is decolonizing the gaze and conception of movies and celebrating the underdog’s vision of life as it pertains to challenging racism, misogyny, and capitalism on screen…and in life.

The Brecht Forum’s poster for the 2002 Visual Liberation Film Festival: a program of radical humanist filmmaking in NYC.

Visual Liberation (or “Cinematic Decolonization”) refers to movies that are made with the purpose of freeing both the audience and the creator’s minds, freeing them of the shackles of mental oppression, the remnants of a colonized (brainwashed) mind.  Whether they are mainstream, downstream, commercial movies or obscure films — it doesn’t matter. But they must exhibit some kind of genuine revolt within their frames. And they must not be films with a corporate agenda exploiting social unrest and “issues” that are fashionable, which is what Hollywood and advertising have done, rendering true revolutionary fervor obsolete, ironic, or safe.

What we forget – or perhaps never directly acknowledge– is the fact that what we regard as a “movie,” in the traditional American Hollywood sense, is a conception of the Western World’s White Ruling Class. It’s disturbing that, instead of trying to evolve one’s own aesthetic and ideas of how to usurp the rules dictated and imposed by Hollywood filmmaking, filmmakers with a social conscience attempt to make “important” message movies by using the very same rules and techniques and beliefs created by the hallmark of racism and misogyny: Hollywood.

Visual Liberation is at once personal, political, and radical in both and style and content. These are simply movies made as “Protest Films” the way protest music is made and oppose capitalist and xenophobic values (Hollywood) and regards socially conscious cinema as a combination of radical acting, writing, directing, editing, etc

Entire roster/program for the 2002 Visual Liberation film festival at the Brecht Forum, notice the variety of movies.

Visual Liberation is an ever-changing list of films and discussions about movies that could potentially be regarded as literal “protest” films.  The goal of this is to remind ourselves that true insurgent art does (and can) exist within the marginalized and oppressed classes who don’t need permission to make films, that marketing companies don’t own history and socially conscious films don’t need to be dictated to and produced by Corporate Media companies in order to be “important”. 

Dennis Leroy Kangalee has written, theorized, and executed “protest cinema” and now after nearly 20 years later of having the honor of closing the Brecht Forum’s Visual Liberation film festival in 2002, his ideas and ruminations on narrative filmmaking and revolution have developed into a series of sketches/essays that becoming the blueprint for a podcast dedicated to reinstating the venom of insurrectionary art and the danger of ideas/emotions presented on screen; celebrating well known scenes from beloved mainstream films to depictions from the outer edges of our society, removed from the radar of the zeitgeist and always acknowledging the power of those under acknowledged films that rightfully deserve their place and critical assessment -alongside the best of Rap and Punk rock albums.

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned about the podcast and the program notes that go live in September, 2021.

Visual Liberation: Episode 2

Excerpted brainstorms from Podcast Episode Two:

Midnight meditations on flickers, Paul Robeson, the morality of performing in front of a camera, and the embryo of a wobbly cinema

 https://anchor.fm/dennis-leroy-kangalee/episodes/The-Black-Russians-and-Notes-for-a-Wobbly-Cinema-e1ai0em/a-a6v85tr

Episode Two – Excerpts, Notes & Brainstorms from November 19, 2021 12:48AM

*

…I light the candle – and like a film reel running through a projector in the head – I stare at the subtle dips and dives of shadows it tosses – I lay on the floor and I stare up at the ceiling and watch the flickers above the candle dance above the photo of Robeson and Eisenstein…(You wonder what John Berger might have made of it)

The shadows remind me not of the perfunctory Plato’s allegory of the cave – cause in Kangalee’s Cave we’re prisoners of truth, reality is never far from us; if anything we crave fantasy!

But the flickers remind me of the feeling I had as a young artist, the excitement I felt thinking about the plays I’d done…and the films I hoped to one day see.

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman beautifully conceded that if theater was his wife, film was his mistress.  In some way I could relate – but for me and in my formative conception of Visual Liberation —  it was if art was my wife and activism was my mistress.  But one day I realized:  it is quite possible to  have all your desires in ONE BOOK.

(Speaking of books:  read John Tytell’s “Art Exile and Outrage.” About Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s performance group, The Living Theater and the extraordinary combination of Brecht and Artaud in American political Theater. )

*

Last month I mentioned 3 films – all quite different and none prescriptions of or my conception of a revolutionary film – but each in its own way certainly radical – and therefore an example of Visual Liberation —  Chameleon St, Shadows and Dog Day Afternoon.

I realized later why I mentioned these films:  the black consciousness and majestic anarchism of Harris’ masterpiece coincided with my own aesthetic connection to Cassavetes’ jazz-inspired slice of life method-acting jam on identity, race, art, and friendship. All these themes and ideas seemed to coalesce for me in a passionate way simply by witnessing Al Pacino’s diatribes against the system in Dog Day Afternoon.  I also mentioned Tytell’s book because Malina plays Pacino’s mother in the film…and was a real-life mentor of sorts. Her presence in Dog Day Afternoon underscores its revolutionary fervor, there’s an almost organized Artaudian mood – an impulse to literally riot – within the frames of that one movie by that Hollywood radical himself, Sidney Lumet…

Let’s get back to candles:

These midnight gesticulations on the wall made me think of my trip to Moscow in 1992.I don’t know why maybe it’s because that’s where I first smoked a cigarette and discovered when the glimmer of a candle had burned out: that Pushkin was a black man (the statue of him in Moscow is a site to see)…and that Jean Genet was a prophet of sorts, I had witnessed Roman Victuc’s production of the Maids and instantly realized what an Artaudian experience could be in the theater.  1992: Bush SR was still president. I was 16 – and it was The year I discovered Paul Robeson, Eisenstein and made sense of my visit to the Moscow art theater.

*

American Protest music and American Protest film – Political Filmmaking in a Left-Wing sense; a Wobbly Cinema if you will —

Dylan, Cash, Seeger, Havens, Joan Baez, Odetta, Bessie Smith…Billie Holiday. 

When I mention these American artists what do you think of?

Now, let’s think about this in terms of a specific form of American movies.

 Aesthetic and Ideological Foundation: Micheaux, Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Clarke, Menelik Shabbaz, Fronza Woods, Julie Dash, Michael Roemer, MVP, Pasolini, Kramer, Cassavetes, Ivan Dixon, etc. Within this…underlying all of this is Paul Robeson.

The spirit of Robeson, who insisted you have to be on one side of oppression or the other.  And the artist to him was a moralist who had to fight against abuse, poverty, genocide, and rape.

Recently Rosalie Gancie, artist and publisher in MD, had shared a lovely facsmile of a program circa, 1954-1955 of an announcement declaring a Calypso band at a gathering in support of Paul Robeson who had lost his passport; and the supporting fundraiser – happily endorsed by Charlie Chaplin –she shared the event materials on social media and it was so interesting to see it…and it immediately made me embarrassed at how the Left have shrunk artistically and culturally in POP and in the underground, or the fringes.  

One of the greatest performing artists of the twentieth century and one of the towering figures of the left as well as one its worst ambassador’s, ironically, for cinema.

Tragically Robeson was one of The White Man’s Movie Industry’s grossest unintentional accomplices for the of stereotypes and derogatory projections of black actors in film. He was a prisoner of the white gaze, while knowing full well – in the end, that his revolutionary desires in cinema had been highjacked and betrayed by his trust and belief that most of the white people he worked with in film would enable what he wanted to do for the common man, the working man…and especially the person of African descent. He never came off the way he wanted to in a movie…

 The exceptions are few, but most notably Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul (one of the only movies I can watch him in)

 ( I highly suggest you read Susan Robeson’s book about her grandfather’s struggle for more detailed information about this.  One of the several heartbreaking ingredients of his life…)

Because there is very little freewheeling revolutionary spirit and dignity in many of the motion pictures he acted in, it’s hard to watch him at all, frankly, on screen — I think it was Ruby Dee who lamented that she could never watch a movie he was in…and part of this reason is because it is a political and moral choice and vulnerability to perform in front of a camera and/or allow another human being to “capture” a part of you through a lens.  Think about it:  it’s a take.

“Let’s do a take.”

“Can’t take your photo?”

Or “Let’s take your photo.” As if I have it already and will transfer it someplace else?

“We’re gonna do another take. This time when you look at her, try not to blink.”

The Actor has to now open himself up to…what?

Nothing perhaps. Maybe that’s better. A take. Hmm.

As in…”take my soul,” but leave my body in tact? What is taken? Is the Western conception of film ultimately about the taking and capturing? Is it essentially about taming the subject into a ‘frame’ and recording death of the spirit; extinguishing the passion that cannot be contained?

In photography, they even say “Can I shoot you?”

(A riff on Taking, Capturing, & Shooting A Creature, Idea or Feeling With a Camera: The Western conception of film is about more than dominance, it is about conquest and colonizing a subject, a person, an event, a place and sticking a flag into its gut, while declaring the gardeners through to give up their seeds for the camera! From Herzog to Coppola, the film director is the last talisman of the White Romantic Colonizer who sets out to dictate to others what he cannot create in his own home!

When the bourgeoisie locked up and burned down the Shaman’s vision quest – that ran the gamut of every emotion – it scared the French, embarrassed the English, and made the German, Spanish, and Italians suspicious. To the former, language and behavior was about moving up and through a society; to the latin languages and the more insistent Caucasian tribes — it was about using language as both a strong greeting and even stronger goodbye; getting you into the boat and getting you out. Everything in between was tea. Only a Brit with a dumb camera around his neck ominously like a gun with a silencer could ask an Indigenous or African chief he’d just pounded into a deck of boat after having raped his sister (out of sight, of course) – “Would you mind if I shot you?” )

But for a moment consider what Paul Robeson was up against.

Here was this brilliant man, tall, stately, athletic with an incredible voice who was a wonderful stage actor and an even better singer and orator.

(And a remarkable writer, by the way.)

He was light years ahead of himself – and his vision was greater than anyone around him could probably conceive; his wife certainly was a loving accomplice…and he was quite admired by Sergei Eisenstein, whom Robeson in turn, had respect for.  You wonder “Why didn’t they work together?”

 Well, you can certainly bet the USA would never have allowed THAT to happen.  And yes, it was that bad and YES they do have that power (namely cause we give it to them)

The forces that be will always make sure that highly talented, gifted or brilliant people (in any capacity) NEVER work together, collaborate or commune.  They will always try to separate them. 

 *

And now I leave you with this:

“On The Willful Ignorance of Andrei Tarkovsky:”

Mikhail Romm (1901-1971) was a Soviet Film Director and Teacher. His film 

“Dream” (1941) – about spiritual crisis and poverty – was supposedly deemed by FDR as being one the greatest films ever made. In 1956, his student Andrei Tarkovsky made his first film, “The Killers.” It was a student thesis movie. Based on a Hemingway short story, Romm admonished Tarkovsky for having the lack of imagination and sensitivity for shamefully employing an actor in black-face in the movie! Romm told Tarkovsky – who had previously been studying Arabic! – that he had learned nothing about humanity and that he had no imagination. He decried that the young man had defiled the memory of the greatest Russian Poet, Alexander Pushkin – who was black! (Indeed, the film is disappointing in that it reveals the casual racism of the White world at that time via the young and ignorant Tarkovsky. But it’s very telling and revealing that such an “innocently racist” young man would become a deeply compassionate and humane filmmaker a few years later.) In any event, Romm would have none of it, he chided Tarkovsky for being influenced by Fascism and American racism and deemed him counter-revolutionary. In the next 2 years, the young Tarkovsky did a lot of soul searching. Legend also has it that Paul Robeson visited Romm after one of his 1959 concerts at Lenin Stadium (Khabarovsk) when the USA’s ban on his passport had been lifted. Romm refused to introduce the young Tarkovsky for fear of Robeson wanting to see the lad’s first film. I assume somewhere in all this…The great Tarkovsky had learned a valuable lesson and came to understand in the words of King: that there is nothing “more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

 We need to return to the embryo of THE NEED FOR A RADICAL CINEMA.

If you are making a film — Have something more to say than ACTION!

Peace. 

*

https://anchor.fm/dennis-leroy-kangalee/embed/episodes/The-Black-Russians-and-Notes-for-a-Wobbly-Cinema-e1ai0em

The Wit & Warmth of Kathleen Collins

Kathleen Collins’ The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy gives us an urge to be free, to literally want to run and “find ourselves.”

Click here to read last month’s piece in the Luminal Theater’s Wavelengths — my “review” and remembrance of Kathleen Collins’ warm and loving first feature, The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy – her remarkable introduction into the world of long-form narrative filmmaking . Collins’ sparkling humor and insight into life was not only attractive, but muscular and always curious on screen. Her intelligence alone would make most director’s tremble in their boots. And all of this organically and humbly developed into style which she draped into a confident shawl with her masterwork, Losing Ground.

Visual Liberation: The Podcast

Revolution Through a Lens: a new way of watching…

Visual Liberation is a way of watching films through a Marxist/Fanonian lens.

They are films and interpretations of those films that champion the fight against the Hollywood celebrations of racism, misogyny, and all other talismans of capitalism. This radical approach to filmmaking is a pedagogy that has been in development since 2000, exemplified in the film As an Act of Protest and surveyed in essays and articles since then, including the 2001 “Notes from the Underground” manifesto, a radical response to the Danish Dogme 95 movement. The first Visual Liberation film program was held in a self-titled festival at the Brecht Forum in 2002, in New York City.

Visual Liberation is both a curriculum that can be implemented in educational institutions as well as an approach to life and creating art. Its goal is in freeing both the audience and the artist in however the “political message” is being relayed by the author/director. In art, the how is as vital as the what. So-called “political films” in the mainstream have forgotten this.

Visual Liberation dismantles the notion that film is hierarchical and inherently fascistic and must be a Nationalist tool. While Audre Lorde is correct to declare one can’t eradicate the system with the instruments the system created, it is also worth noting how those instruments are played and used. Filmmakers can have agency and invigorate an alternative culture and view of both cinema and what it means to be socially conscious.

Through bare-bones intimate casual reflections, this “sermon,” or midnight ramble, is an explicit and personal oral rendering of written essays by Dennis Leroy Kangalee (DLK) reminding Leftist artists what it means to imbue their ideologies in narrative films, positing that “protest cinema” should be on par with American protest music and to help enable the battle against the Left’s cultural quandary and the damage done by American mainstream movies.

Pedagogical, personal, political and always poetic – this is the beginning of a new way of watching cinema.

The podcast is available now on Anchor and Spotify!

https://anchor.fm/dennis-leroy-kangalee/episodes/Visual-Liberation-Introduction-e181ndj/a-a6k1n5t

Visual Liberation: Black Militancy & Revolution On Screen – Pt.1

Black World Cinema’s on-going series of Revolution on Screen…

I am proud to be part of Black World Cinema’s “Black Militancy & Revolution On Screen” program and virtual screening series organized by Chicago’s own Floyd Webb and Imani Davis, two of our countries most knowledgeable Black radical film programmers.

Corresponding to my own artistic and moral proclivities as it relates to anti-Capitalist and Anti-Racist and anti-Imperialist Liberation politics, this series is deeply embedded in my own artistic past and trajectory– I was an active participant in the creation and promulgation of the second wave of Black Revolutionary drama in the 1990’s in NYC and it was later through Floyd Webb that my own marginalized work began to be re-assessed and appreciated by a whole new generation in 2014 when As an Act of Protest screened in Chicago after a twelve- year ban on the film in the USA.

This Sunday, September 12, 2021 at 4pm Eastern Standard time, Black World Cinema TV celebrates and screen Oscar Williams’ revolutionary movie “The Final Comedown” inspired and based on Jimmy Garrett’s Black Arts Movement masterpiece “And We Own The Night,” quite possibly the most revolutionary one act play ever written. Oscar William’s 1972 motion picture subverts both the action movie genre and the the coming-of-age story by adhering to the spirit and at times the literal text of Garret’s startling drama.

Starring Billy Dee Williams in, quite possibly, his most radical role – politically and aesthetically – Williams is wonderful as the passionate revolutionary Johnny. Williams’ charming, suave demeanor, and blue-jazz cool is all there already…but seething beneath – within it – is a vault of revolutionary fervor about to explode. Join us Sunday and check back here for additional notes, writings and thoughts on this film and everything related to it by the end of this month when Visual Liberation is live.

Visual Liberation: Where It All Began

Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s “Ways of Seeing”

Visual Liberation is decolonizing the gaze and conception of movies and celebrating the underdog’s vision of life as it pertains to challenging racism, misogyny, and capitalism on screen…and in life.

The Brecht Forum’s poster for the 2002 Visual Liberation Film Festival: a program of radical humanist filmmaking in NYC.

Visual Liberation (or “Cinematic Decolonization”) refers to movies that are made with the purpose of freeing both the audience and the creator’s minds, freeing them of the shackles of mental oppression, the remnants of a colonized (brainwashed) mind.  Whether they are mainstream, downstream, commercial movies or obscure films — it doesn’t matter. But they must exhibit some kind of genuine revolt within their frames. And they must not be films with a corporate agenda exploiting social unrest and “issues” that are fashionable, which is what Hollywood and advertising have done, rendering true revolutionary fervor obsolete, ironic, or safe.

What we forget – or perhaps never directly acknowledge– is the fact that what we regard as a “movie,” in the traditional American Hollywood sense, is a conception of the Western World’s White Ruling Class. It’s disturbing that, instead of trying to evolve one’s own aesthetic and ideas of how to usurp the rules dictated and imposed by Hollywood filmmaking, filmmakers with a social conscience attempt to make “important” message movies by using the very same rules and techniques and beliefs created by the hallmark of racism and misogyny: Hollywood.

Visual Liberation is at once personal, political, and radical in both and style and content. These are simply movies made as “Protest Films” the way protest music is made and oppose capitalist and xenophobic values (Hollywood) and regards socially conscious cinema as a combination of radical acting, writing, directing, editing, etc

Entire roster/program for the 2002 Visual Liberation film festival at the Brecht Forum, notice the variety of movies.

Visual Liberation is an ever-changing list of films and discussions about movies that could potentially be regarded as literal “protest” films.  The goal of this is to remind ourselves that true insurgent art does (and can) exist within the marginalized and oppressed classes who don’t need permission to make films, that marketing companies don’t own history and socially conscious films don’t need to be dictated to and produced by Corporate Media companies in order to be “important”. 

Dennis Leroy Kangalee has written, theorized, and executed “protest cinema” and now after nearly 20 years later of having the honor of closing the Brecht Forum’s Visual Liberation film festival in 2002, his ideas and ruminations on narrative filmmaking and revolution have developed into a series of sketches/essays that becoming the blueprint for a podcast dedicated to reinstating the venom of insurrectionary art and the danger of ideas/emotions presented on screen; celebrating well known scenes from beloved mainstream films to depictions from the outer edges of our society, removed from the radar of the zeitgeist and always acknowledging the power of those under acknowledged films that rightfully deserve their place and critical assessment -alongside the best of Rap and Punk rock albums.

This is just the beginning. Stay tuned about the podcast and the program notes that go live in September, 2021.

BRIAN ALESSANDRO’S PASSIONATE DEFENSE OF A CULT CLASSIC

Why “As an Act of Protest” is still relevant…

Though the film was made in 2001 and scrutinizes the racial profiling and police brutality in New York City under Giuliani’s draconian reign, “As an Act of Protest” has never been more urgent than now. I approach this review—a defense born of moral outrage, really—not as a film critic, but as a fellow filmmaker and novelist. Often, it takes an artist to recognize an artist, talent to identify talent.

To contextualize, the film makes almost all contemporary activism and progressive finger-wagging histrionics feel like a disingenuous kindergarten special, a halfhearted performance staged by people who stand for nothing, driven by questionable motives. 

Che Ayende as Cairo in the film’s ultimate de-colonialist climax

The story centers on Abner, imbued with a glorious righteous indignation by writer-director Dennis Leroy Kangalee (originally “Dennis Leroy Moore“), who runs a Black theater group, and his actor Cairo Medina, Che Ayende in a turn that manages both a visceral nerviness and a cerebral intensity. Though Abner floats throughout the film like a haunted, haunting spirit, the spiritual journey—and crisis—is Cairo’s. He must cope with the unjust, criminal murder of a loved one at the hands of the NYPD as he reconciles his passion for expression through art or, failing that, a descent into violent vengeance. Ayende’s work here is unnerving, spellbinding, and ultimately heartbreaking. He is a force of brooding expression, tension, and apoplectic eruptions. He is compelling when silent and striking when in a verbose fury.

The acting is so raw, immediate, and naturalistic it seems more than improvised—it feels as though we’re watching real intimate connections being worked out. And yet, there is a fascinating formalism at play here. Rarely do we find actors who can balance with such adeptness the natural with the formal. The cinema of Cassavetes comes to mind. The theater of Baraka and Genet do, too. Kangalee clearly knows his film and theater history and understands where he fits in the ever-shifting canon. His marriage of forms and sensibilities is thoughtful; he assiduously toils toward excavating a new understanding of human behavior.

We have seen countless movies that celebrate straight white men at breaking points with society. Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Edward Norton in Fight Club. Joaquin Phoenix in Joker. Rarely are black men granted the same luxury of being enraged with the world and acting on their anger. And if we’re being honest, it is black men—especially black men in America—who have the greatest right to be in a, as Baldwin put it, “state of rage, almost all the time.” 

The ruminations on the nature of theater, and especially the need for a Black theater, run deep and into enlightening spaces. Theatre of the Absurd is thought of when considering the film on a meta level—the way Black people are mistreated in America is in and of itself absurd. Cruel and unfair to an absurd degree. Kangalee knows this and his emphasis on theater suits such thematic meditations. 

Kangalee, the writer, is relentless in his examinations and excoriations. He demands you pay attention and endure the rhythmic chaos and existential horrors he dissects, those dehumanizing atrocities experienced daily by black men and women. Kangalee, the director, doesn’t let up, either. He insists you confront the gruesome truth and either flee or find deep mettle to withstand the revelation of your complicity. Kangalee, the actor, serves as an effective provocateur, a missile in human trappings sent deep into the heart of the matter. Unlike too many current filmmakers who claim to make “message movies” or “take stands” against injustice and the establishment, Kangalee actually does. And he does so poetically, unapologetically, and with an authenticity that shames.

Marvin X’s 2002 review of “As an Act of Protest” as featured in his book This Crazy House Called America.

Speller Street Films has done an admirable job remastering the cult film that has screened at universities across the United States and in Europe, however, it is unconscionable that As an Act of Protest has struggled for nearly two decades to land distribution. I can only blame the American (mainly white) critical establishment for not championing it, instead doing the bidding of the film industry—yes, both the “independent” film scene and Hollywood. The fear, the lack of imagination and depth, and the outright racism that has kept the film from garnering a wider audience is unforgivable. The hypocrisy of the independent film scene is apparent. They speciously declare their allegiance to emerging artists, taking “risks” with “edgy” fare, seeing more deeply than the big wig studio executives, eschewing commercial formula, and promoting marginalized voices. This is all nonsense, though. They’re just better at hiding their ugly, venal faces, faithful only to maintaining the status quo, and the rejection, indifference, and bitterness that As an Act of Protest has met with is evidence of this.

These same critics celebrate Ava Duvernay, Barry Jenkins, Spike Lee, all gifted and worthy in their own right, but also too-polite “fighters” for the cause, falling into line, protesting within acceptable lines; they stick to studio parameters, abide by white executive decree, and follow the structural playbook of formulaic moviemaking. They are using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, which leaves nothing dismantled, in the end. The structures remain. Kangalee has no use for the master’s tools and in his gritty, obliquely stylized aesthetic uses his own tools. And his dismantling is actual, not theoretical. He has no use for levity to break tension. He doesn’t care if you’re bothered by the cacophony of actors screaming into each other’s faces for two hours. He has no use for your precious sensitivities. Why should he? He’s not trying to become anyone’s friend. He is seeking to make enduring, personal art. And he has. 

Writer-Director Dennis Leroy Kangalee in 2001.

In a certain, eerie sense, the detractors of As an Act of Protest mirror the racist cops, corrupt mayor, and gentrified encroachers in the film itself. They too possess a colonized entitlement, a sense that they have the license to control, own, and kill.  

Having followed the underground movements of As an Act of Protest, I possess empirical knowledge of the politics surrounding the film. And of the machinations intent on derailing it. I have witnessed too many cowardly, meek “critics” and academics lazily assail the film as if it posed a threat to their existence. The Guardian’s apathetic pseudo-review and TrustMovies’ ill-informed, vindictive rant, to name but a few. The same people who claim to want revolution and fancy themselves progressives, or even radicals, for that matter, reveal themselves to be anything but—they’re comfortable bourgeoise daunted by the prospect of being discomfited. They prefer a softer, templated blend of activism, something that will go down smoothly with their lattes and Wes Anderson confectionaries. To them, activism is little more than a fashionable accessory, a cute button or hip catch phrase. As an Act of Protest is a litmus test, one to weed out the truly rebellious and throttle the frauds into retreat. It’s exhilarating to watch the assault.   

Brian Alessandro currently writes literary criticism for Newsday and is a contributor at Interview Magazine. Most recently, he has adapted Edmund White’s 1982-classic A Boy’s Own Story into a graphic novel for Top Shelf Productions, which won the National Book Award in 2016 for March. His short fiction and essays have been published in Roxanne Gay’s literary journal, PANK, as well as in Crashing Cathedrals, an anthology of essays about the work of Edmund White. In 2011, Alessandro wrote and directed the feature film, Afghan Hound, which has streamed on Amazon and Netflix. In 2016, he founded The New Engagement, a literary journal that has released two print issues and eighteen online issues. His debut novel, The Unmentionable Mann, was published in 2015 and was well received by Huffington Post, The Leaf, Examiner, and excerpted in Bloom. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice and the Independent Book Publisher Association Best New Voice Award. He holds an MA in clinical psychology from Columbia University and has taught the subject at the high school and college levels for over ten years. He currently works in the mental health field.

Black Struggle, White Hustle: What Journalist David Zucchino Stole From Filmmaker Christopher Everett…(and Black America)

The Assassination of the of the Conscious Black Filmmaker & The Sins of White Journalists – pt. 1

***

In 2015 I was invited to participate at a Discussion on Black Futurist Art, Ferguson, and Racism with other black educators, artists and independent arts advocates.  Disappointed with the same old tired clichés about African-American existence in America and the struggle to combat racism effectively, I declared to everyone’s chagrin that “If Black lives matter then we should support our living artists.”

I was then – and remain now – a staunch believer in the fusion of radical activism and radical artistic expression, I wholly believe that the key to beginning any progressive step towards a better, deeper, and more fully realized humanity resides in the vision of the artist.  It’s up to the activist to make the vision practical.  But a lot of people don’t like to hear this or confront this because it puts a lot of responsibility at their feet,  the naked truth is always hard to confront.

Everett
Christopher Everett, director of Wilmington On Fire about the 1898 Racist coup in North Carolina – which was released 5 years before David Zucchino’s much heralded book on the same subject.

Black lives matter only when white people say they do.  In America, Black lives are only mourned never celebrated.  Our victimization has become fetishized,  our willingness to take action against oppressive and Fascistic behavior has been reduced, and our culture – the defining qualities of our own folkways – has been given up, sold off and “shared”  (that is how it is described) by the entire world.  Our pain, suffering, and trauma  has taken on such inter-stellar resonance that nobody actually responds to Black peoples oppression the way they should.  While the Jews always retained control of their own horrifying memories,  Blacks still in 2020 have to ask for permission.  Permission to tell our own accounts, to share both acts and facts, and to illuminate our past torment.

Nowhere is this more obvious than when white journalists try to assert authority over the experience of Black suffrage and reshape it as a “morality play” for white mainstream audiences.  This not only continues to imply that the “human experience” is NOT universal — unless relayed by a white person, specifically a white male — but that no one will care about America’s racist history or the trauma endured by Blacks unless White writers bring attention to it. It’s a catch 22 situation and a tradition as well.

Regardless of any good intention White journalists, patrons, teachers, critics and those manning the boat of ‘Cultural Importance’ have always appropriated and used the history, talents, art, folkways, and ideas of Black Americans — often developed in spite of their bondage and condition as political prisoners in the United States.

Pop culture is a perfect example and while I don’t have the wherewithal to go down the rabbit hole of the sordid history of Culture Vulture-ism in American popular entertainment and art (Al Jolson’s terrifyingly racist deification of Black-face performing, White pop acts co-opting Black rock & roll, MTV vaudeville acts like New Kids On the Block or Justin Timberlake  – the list goes on and on) — it has to be stated that white journalists love a good “story” about racism that they can share because it not only puts them into a moral center they feel they can own it puts them in a position to make money off a political situation that their forebears have created. In a perverse way it is brilliant. Whites write books and make loads of money on the Lecture Circuit giving their two cents about racism and enacting a disingenuous concern; feigning outrage over the Terrorism and sadism their  the founding fathers  committed — all the while ignoring the philosophical, academic, artistic and political contributions Blacks have mined on the very same subjects. And while we look for allies, Fugazi White Liberals look for angles.

The establishment is venal not cause it is prejudiced against certain groups or exploits others or glorifies torture or hates women. It is corrupt because it rewards White people who steal “the Black man’s thunder” and those who peddle and hustle the underbelly of the American empire in the name of “social awareness” and history.

The racist paternalism inherent in publishing and academia actually leads the rest of the culture in this regard, it helps to dignify that maltreatment black musicians and screenwriters for example by trying to legitimize the spiritual grand larceny and cultural embezzlement that white journalists and historians gear up to commit.  They are base cultural tourists who, under the guise of education, commit intellectual imperialism.

If America is a cultural melting pot (it is) and if the keys on the piano are black and white (it is) — than the majestic fusion of these differences  can unite to celebrate their singular existences as well as their similarities and THIS is how we learn. But that is an idealized intercultural society whilst we live in a racist multicultural society that is mandated by the very people we all claim we hate – but who themselves happen to claim that they are our friends.

I can speak for myself, I don’t need a white man to do it for me.

Christopher Everett blew the lid off the history and story of the Wilmington holocaust in 2015 when his groundbreaking independent film Wilmington On Fire – a documentary – hit the streets and theaters after the most successful screening in the Cucalorus Film festival’s entire history.  Since then the film has been taught in major universities,  used as part of cultural-enrichment sensitivity training course for North Carolina police officers, was discussed by Congress in a hearing on reparations, Everett  himself has become a well noted independent film guru, the founder of his own distribution/production company and something of a new wave folk hero in North Carolina.  So how could this NY Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalist (and graduate of North Carolina University) David Zucchino not know who Christopher Everett is or about Wilmington On Fire which came out nearly 5 years before Zucchino’s book Wilmington’s Lie was published?

How could mainstream publications and outlets pretend they don’t know who inspired Zucchino and what initiated the genesis of his desire to research the occurrences of 1898 in Wilmington?

Simple. Cause Everett’s Black (and conscious, which is always threatening to the establishment) he is easy to rationalize away. He is also a Black radical filmmaker who conscientiously views and uses cinema as a liberation tool.  Period.  And he knew that simply taking the lid off this part of history was revolutionary in itself.  White people cannot have or accept Blacks who see truth not as a profession but as a calling —  to ever be the at vanguard of mainstream education or knowledge or aesthetics;  for a treason or sin to be understood it must be conveyed through a white man’s eyes. And mouth.

It is the same thinking, albeit a slightly different context no less insidious, that White music producers had when they stole Black music and rendered more “intelligent” and “safer” palpable soft-core pop versions of Black rhythm and blues songs for White Americans to consume. They live a xerox reality, not a doubled one as the oppressed do but a low grade facsimile of the ideas and feelings that were first uttered and created as a result of Black suffrage.

From Amazing Grace to Big Mama Thornton’s hollers  to the way brass instruments were played to how the guitar became a tool of liberatory audio terrorism to nearly every recognized slang word of the past 90 years to fashion to sports — Blacks have ignited ideas before the white man ever conceived and later packaged and sold them.  This includes our perspectives and realizations of history, our uncovering of truths.

Whites who cling to the Establishment – like the people of color who cherish it  — are not willing to admit their crimes and for all I know they may not even see their crime. Blacks have been erased and ghettoized literally and figuratively in the USA for 400 years.  I can’t expect 400 words or hours of my ranting to resolve this.

Christopher Everett hails from Laurinburg, NC and is a phenomenal filmmaker and film producer. A tenacious and conscientious producer, he doesn’t believe in the exploitative and wasteful capitalist approach to film production.  I refer to him as my generation’s Roger Corman, although his cultural contribution will far exceed Corman’s.  Time will prove me right. Because he does so much everyone think Everett has a lot of money.  They seem to ignore the fact that he, like virtually every other peasant in the world (I use that term affectionately) – HAS to get up every morning and pay the rent.  In addition to holding down a full-time job with Full Frame Festival in North Carolina (the first African-American ever to do so) he organizes different ideas and approaches to the world and to art; he tries to find new ways he and his artist friends can make a living, he tries to figure out trends and how to create ones, forging ideas upon other filmmakers and the general public whenever he has access to them.  Like me, he is an outsider and loner by birth,  unlike me — he is a Cinematic MC, an impresario of sorts.  He is currently at work on two separate documentaries, a narrative; he produces art shows, cultural events; he works in conjugal with NY based filmmakers Brian Alessandro and Vagabond; he spent a whole year restoring and re-contextualizing my 2001 controversial drama As an Act of Protest — granting it new fresh screenings, introducing it to a whole new generation and enabling the film to be declared a “cult classic.”  This got him into trouble (the movie, which is about the psychological effects of racism & police brutality and the Black impetus to revolt was literally banned by the Giuliani administration in 2002)  but he never looked back.  When I asked him why he wanted to do this, he took umbrage.  “Come on man, your film is important, it needs to be seen and re-evaluated,” he remarked in his cool low-key Laurinburg drawl.  And he painstakingly worked to transfer the original movie from its PAL European source to North American NTSC so that we could make DVDs.  He used his own money and lost money on me several times.  His belief in me, in cinema, in ideas, in wanting to help the Black community en masse is astounding and humbling. He works in the trenches cause that is where he is most comfortable and most honest.  He deplores Hollywood hucksterism as much as he despises phony Academic intellectuals who make money off revisiting the pain incurred by Black Americans.  These are part of the reasons why the Establishment will not accept or support him.  And they are also part of the reason why the so-called independents and the “everyday Joes” don’t support him.  Everyone is afraid.

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2017 news article announcing Everett & Speller St Films’ restoration of “As an Act of Protest,” my controversial film that has become a staple of Everett’s modus operandi.

I don’t care about White people who won’t take three seconds to consider my point of view here, I’m concerned with the Blacks who suffer from Stockholm Syndrome and do nothing but make excuses for “well-intentioned” White academics,  foolishly believing that these “good Caucasians” are actually trying to help bring awareness about racism.  White Americans do not need to be told about their racism or their racist past.  They know it like a lion knows its own roar.

There are and will be more people who defend Zucchino’s actions as there will always be those partial to ivory tower transgressions and those that love to mention The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as the “greatest American novel ever written.”  Not cause they understand or appreciate the warnings and meanings implicit in the book because, simply, they want Black Americans to feel and see themselves as invisible.  Once this is accomplished they can own your suffering, your ”narrative”  as the zeitgeist prefers to say.  There is no narrative because there was no author, only savagery and treachery that grows like a virus.  Racism itself is a kind of virus, a poison.  These words are the continued kindling in the search for an antidote.

What is important to remember here, however, is the racist patriarchal sense of entitlement and the gross indecency that the bourgeoisie display when itching for a new hustle.  Of course what better way than to crib from the Black American community?  Zucchino is well-heeled and rubs shoulders with all the right people in the Literary and Journalism world, I would bet too that he has never had to self publish or take a financial hit when considering what and where to publish.  Conversely, Everett is a working-man,  a proletariat filmmaker — he comes from a hard working North Carolina family that has has had its ups and downs like everybody else and he has known the face of poverty and struggle as an artist and cultural historian unlike Zucchino.  Everett made Wilmington On Fire at great risk to his own personal health,  I highly doubt Zucchino could say the same of his book-writing.  Has Zucchino received death threats or ever been concerned about his family due to the truth he dared to disclose about American racism?  I doubt it.

 

DZ
Pulitzer Prize winning David Zucchino author of Wilmington’s Lie who, I believe, watched and studied information in Everett’s Wilmington on Fire and yet refuses to cite or credit Everett as a source or inspiration.

So let’s not be fooled.  We as Black people need to stop begging for the White establishment and all the organizers of the Ivory Tower to notice or pay attention to us.  We need to pay more attention to ourselves, we need constantly support ourselves.  That in and of itself is the very first step towards a cultural renaissance,  a step towards self-transformation.  How does one ascertain the criterion of the cultural gatekeepers?  It’s not who they promote.  It is who they don’t.  

White people see you clearly. That’s why they can delete you. One has to exist in order to be erased or moved or forgotten. To ignore is a verb. It is not passive. Like betrayal or murder it causes lacerations unseen that float out into the ether…someone always knows what you did. Why. And how.

And while ghosts may not stop Zucchino from continuing this sick charade, my words can at least act as a warning as a traffic sign might.  However in Zucchino’s car — in the universe he drives in — “Deer Crossing” is synonymous with “Artist Expressing” or “Black Man Walking.” And in that world the sign prompts you to drive faster and not slow down.

So let’s just move on and cross Christopher Lamont Everett off the list.  Another Black man killed.  Who cares? Isn’t that why we exist anyway?

Just ask Georgia.

*

Wilmington On Fire is now available on streaming! 

Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/wilmingtononfire 

Travis Pearson’s “America Street”

In 2017 I had the pleasure of meeting filmmaker Travis Pearson.  His film “America Street” about two brothers Sota and Buck and the trauma experienced by formerly incarcerated Black Men who attempt to re-enter mainstream society haunted me and moved me in a way few modern movies do.  Below is the original essay/review I wrote for the film’s DVD/Blu Ray release.

Diffused and muted on a wet Charleston day.  That’s the abiding and earthy feeling of what Travis Pearson’s America Street most imbues in me when I think about it.  That and the bittersweet horror of trying to “get back” home when home has become an abstract and ephemeral place, literally and metaphorically…

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Unable to literally speak, Bucks must learn how to communicate with his 6 year old son…

From the poor Southern vernacular and slang of Sota to the salt-of-the earth homilies of the Mother to the need for work and ‘the waltzing matilda’ having lunch under “America Street” sign to a random lesson on the 1739 Stoner Rebellion and the imagining of Harriet Tubman as an American Joan of Arc to the conception of Daddy Bucks — too poor to afford a ‘war’, although he’s a soldier nonetheless (if Chaplin’s Tramp and waif were a black and humorless 37-year old ex-con he’d be Bucks) Pearson’s beautiful neo-realist approach contains a rawness and honesty seldom seen in American pictures where exploitation is not the aim.  Especially in films concerning black Americans and Southern or rural culture.

The film is not a tourist film for white audiences nor does it pander to its black audiences and that is why it succeeds as an honest portrait of the underdog, the maligned, and the heartbroken.  It eschews all bourgeois patronizing of the working class and ex-convicts who try re-enter society (all too common in cinema) and the judicial problems of the black underclass because its director identifies with his characters. Pearson is an artist whose vision is genuine and unflinching as he makes you deal with cold hard realities.  Even homosexuality is relayed in a way a far more courageous (and less stereotypical) than mainstream fare like Moonlight.

Like a shattered stained glass window, America Street is a mirror of a fractured society – one that wants to be whole but doesn’t have the resources to put itself back together again.  A gritty, well-made drama with honest performances that seeks to celebrate and indict aspects of not only Charleston life but American society – America Street is replete with its hypocrisies, injustices, and confusion.  When Bucks vocalizes it is like a yelp from the back of his throat that explodes. And that’s exactly what the film does: it’s explodes and does more than “pack a punch.”  It makes you find both your heart and your mind.  It entertains as well as enlightens.  And that is all we can ask our artists who try to go into the places we choose to ignore.

— Dennis Leroy Kangalee

NYC April 28, 2018

You can learn more about Travis Pearson and Avidaya Films by visiting his Facebook account or Tumblr:

https://www.facebook.com/americastreetfilm/

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