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As an Act of Protest premiered at the American Black film festival in 2001, but only now has it received distribution. In retrospect that’s no great mystery: it’s a self-consciously confrontational “cinematic poem” about a difficult subject. It’s also possible that director Dennis Leroy Kangalee would have considered it selling out to court a wider audience, at least based on the disgruntled theatre-group leader he plays on screen.
Kangalee a real New York dramatist and poet, who worked with politically progressive theatre groups in the years leading up to 9/11. From the poorly lit shots and awkward editing, it’s clear that theatre, not film, is his first creative language. The script’s digs at “Hollywood directors” suggest this may even be a point of pride. Some more entertaining scenes are also set in a chaotic rehearsal space, as arguing actors raise their voices to compete with the noise from outdoor drilling and a discordant jazz soundtrack.
Behind the scenes at a radical Harlem theatre company would have made an intriguing premise for the whole film. Instead, we soon leave this setting to follow one of the actors, Cairo (Che Ayende), on a distressing odyssey downtown, as he encounters racism in various guises, before eventually succumbing to madness.
This narrative amounts to one overwrought shouting match after another, interspersed with on-screen quotations from Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Paul Robeson. It’s thuddingly repetitive, but, helped by some intense performances, it communicates a range of black perspectives on racism, and suggest ways in which art and activism might ameliorate the psychological effects.
General audiences are now more receptive to such subject matter than they would have been in a pre-Black Lives Matter 2001. Sadly, it’s a kind of timeliness that can neither qualify as prescience, nor substitute for style.
• As an Act of Protest is available on Vimeo from 30 October.
Source: The Guardian
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