Tag Archives: activism

“I simply feel that the kids in their 20’s today try to model their lives on the surfaces of people and ideas that simply appeal to their basic desires and fashionable politics. They are flags in the wind. They have no real convictions or substance, and they are easily manipulated – but so is everyone else. Regardless of age. But if the youth are so innovative today — what have they given us besides social media and a ‘hip’ corporate culture that breeds apathy? It’s Orwellian. I mean, we’re all Boxers at the end of the day, really – or the best of us are. Some of us are Clovers. And a few of us are Benjamins. That’s me. I know for a fact that life will never improve or change. And I accept that. But I don’t have to accept my misery on the inevitable journey to the grave.”                                                                                                                                                                                                  — St. Claire Mulligan, Tremors

..On the Inevitable Journey to the Grave

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Mtume Gant: Remembering “As an Act of Protest”

Fellow filmmaker and colleague for nearly 20 years, Mtume Gant, has written a touching commemorative piece for my 2001 cult film “As an Act of Protest,” which recently received a revival screening in Chicago via Floyd Webb’s Black World Cinema…Click the link below to read his liner notes for this “retrospective” which will be included in the DVD package at the end of this year. 

Maverick Intentions: By Mtume Gant 

Dennis Leroy Kangalee's "As an Act of Protest" starring Che Ayende

Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s “As an Act of Protest” starring Che Ayende

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Black Film & The Underground Spirit: 3

It all boils down to what is your weapon. If the pen is mightier than the sword, and I do believe it is, directors must respect their talents and their tools…It is very easy and horrifying to kill a man. It is much difficult and courageous to supplant a perversion with a transcendence; the true act of destruction carries the desire to create within it… You can only make a sex, drugs, and rock and roll movie so many ways. Within this barrage of images assaulting you – TV, newspapers, films – the only way to compete and battle America’s freaky web of pop culture, blatant racism, not so blatant racism, and that beast called television is to align your own self behind a series of images, tie them to a missile, and set it off. And if constructed correctly, no matter how small, missiles will destroy.
— from “Towards a Black New Wave & Notes from the Underground,”
(Harlem, August 26, 2000)

The Author, DL Kangalee, NYC, 2004 [photo by Nina Fleck]

The Author, DL Kangalee, NYC, 2004 [photo by Nina Fleck]

([copyright 2000, 2014 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee)

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The Fetishization of Lupita Nyongo & the Dilemma of Black Actresses in Hollywood…

The Fetishization of Lupita Nyongo & the Dilemma of Black Actresses in Hollywood…

This article helped to give credence to my decision to move forward with my film project, “Octavia” — which was conceived to return to my protest art roots and theatrical background.  Urged by other writers who were supportive of my work, I wanted to create a role for a black actress that was at least as complex and interesting as my first cinematic character Cairo in “As an Act of Protest.”

This article only proves we are in a stranger, deeper dilemma as People of Color who may be involved in the Establishment Entertainment Complex or simply creating the advent of images under our own tables, with our own spoons.  Either way, it doesn’t matter.  Even maniacal Mao knew it:  “All art is propaganda.  But not all propaganda is art.”

I tell you: the creepy, insidious, patronizing, misogynistic racism of Hollywood in 2014 should outrage us.  But how can it?  We’re all slaves at the end of the day — shackled in mental slavery — and resistant to defining who we are on our own terms.  I mean that for EVERYBODY.  Hollywood and traditional Broadway, first and foremost, take their cue from Nazi Germany & the African Holocaust in the sense that they “break things down” and create TYPES…Didn’t von Verschuer do the same thing? And remember this if you read the article:  There is something bittersweet when African-Americans win awards given by a racist industry. Even more bizarre: Hattie McDaniel, who won the Oscar for playing Mammy in “Gone With the Wind” – did more for black people in the sense of her willingness to acquiesce and suffer in Hollywood so that Halle Berry or any other flavor-of-the-month in the “rhinestone sharecropping” of Tinseltown wouldn’t have to.  The Hattie McDaniels existed so wouldn’t HAVE TO debase ourselves or be conflicted as “what role to accept,” or revert to the perfunctory sexually subservient creature on screen who fulfills old White Men fantasies (isn’t that what Halle did in “Monster’s Ball”? Be honest. If that film showed a Jewess fucking a Nazi guard, you think the B’nai B’rith would’ve allowed it? Worse: they’d have burnt the ashes of the print! And rightly so.) etc.

So is there any difference between the racial dynamics of 1939 and 2014 in Hollywood? We have not even come full circle.  We are simply walking backwards. And seemingly enjoying the long empty road of our demise.

Pathetic. 

Black dramatists and filmmakers and producers need to get their act together.

Instead of Denzel bemoaning the fact that he still doesn’t get scripts offered to him (can you imagine?) – he should seek out some poor struggling blind alley scribe who could write emotional majesties for him and allow him to move into a new phase of his professional acting, career. I like Denzel Washington as an actor (although I admit I prefer his hungry, lean days) and that’s why I must tough on him. I expect more. I’m glad he did “Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway recently.

But isn’t it ironic that Lorraine Hansberry’s philosophical artistic message is still not be heeded? “A classical people deserve a classical art form,” she said. Not insulting offers to play a role in “The Jungle Book.”

*

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There is no Memory, Just Malcom (and the Ghost of Meredith Hunter)

“I had a gun, yes 
Cause it drove me crazy 
To see white boys 
Making money – 
From my ancestors music; 
Was I planning on murd’rin? 
Not necessarily 
 
But when Brian Jones 
said he walked with Bob Johnson 
The teeth in my head cringed: 
“Man, you’re a charlatan” 
Cause I’m Robert Johnson, 
My cousin’s Fred Hampton, 
My son is Bob Marley, 
And my feet are Michael Jackson; 
 
I’m a stumbling playground in the dark 
a sobered addict who can’t get drunk – 
 
If you want to meet the Devil, 
I’ll show him you 
In a mirror that refracts, 
All you see, think, & do –”

Meredith Hunter before his murder at Rolling Stones 1969 Altamont Concert

Meredith Hunter before his murder at Rolling Stones 1969 Altamont Concert


This was all I remember blaring from my cousin’s speaker; a sonic assault of sophisticated 
beats; finessed bass drum, and threatening guitars – all in righteous synchronicity against 
the foolish belief that the Rolling Stones had devised blues music. 
 
I still did not understand Rap or Punk. But I knew if Malcolm X had been a punk poet 
perhaps he’d have been part of that crazy band; the way Pryor Electric’s guitar sounded 
it was as if the razor sharp acid humor of Malcolm had been tossing out the riffs. 
And those words…while I could not comprehend the literal or psychological implication of 
them– I had felt them deep down inside. 
I felt the same way about Chuck D many years later. 
 
The same place where music beyond my intellectual grasp made sense in my gut. In the 
viscera. 
 
The place I‘d visit repeatedly over the next decade and eventually reside… 
 
It was the place my grandfather often took me to, in those rare drunken boat nights when 
Rimbaud was just as strident in his un-schooled heart as Malcolm X. 
 
Grandpa fought during World War II, but the war he fought was an internal one and a far 
more domestic one.

Not many paupers become princes. 
But Ralph Latimoore, hailing from a den of thieves and pimps from Port of Spain Trinidad, 
became known as the Mayor of Harlem just as the 1950’s wheezed its way into the 
Technicolor revolution known as Civil Rights – his barbershop in Harlem, comfortably on 114 
and St. Nick – 
His red hands 
Cutting the red hair 
Of the man known as Malcolm X. 
 
There was something boldly beautiful about Grandpa; a vase of flowers, Sam the Man 
Taylor’s “Harlem Nocturne” fumigating the soul on a Sunday morning, his insistence on 
good manners and saying “sir” (like Malcolm) , his take no prisoners attitude when 
defending the weak or oppressed. 
 
Later in his life, he always said he was the weakest of them all – 
Because he hadn’t batted an eye the day he placed that fatal bet, 
The day he announced to his stewards in tow: 
 
“I bet you twenty to one that man don’t make it to 40.” 
“Who? The muslin boy?” 
“Muslin’s a fabric, you fool – Red’s a Muslim.” 
“Eh-eh. And he ain’t no boy, nah. He’s Malcolm X. He’s a man. And that’s why they’ll 
make sure he don’t live to see 40.” 
“Well we over 40…” 
“We not a threat. Well. Not yet.” 
 
They placed their bets. Two of the men thought Grandpa was paranoid. 
 
He never spoke about Malcolm’s death, only that a profound silence and emptiness 
pervaded Harlem like an echo chamber of the soul, butterflies of the aorta. 
 
He never placed a bet again and was absolutely convinced— 
that the system used his recklessness and apostate ways 
To kill one of America’s 
– And the world’s – 
Last shining prince: El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz — Brother Malcolm X.  
*
(written for & originally published in “The Day After MLK” program/zine at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, April 2014) 

 

 

 

 

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Another Revolt, The End of Song, No More

Another Revolt, The End of Song, No More

My latest “haiku” had the honor of being published in the Poets Basement section of “Counterpunch,” a wonderful Left wing publication. 

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Cows Don’t Choose Their Butchers: Profiling Shaun Monson

Earthlings was narrated by Joaquin Phoenix

Earthlings was narrated by Joaquin Phoenix

“There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and to shame the devil…”
— Walter Lippman

Art/activism has no teeth. We don’t bite into people’s souls or brains. And we need to.

Shaun Monson, director of the documentary film Earthlings is an excellent example of this as far as journalism is concerned and, frankly, in terms of art as a revolutionary force. He seems to be a genuine, no-holds-barred social explorer who has revealed something so horrible, so vile that he makes dramatic filmmakers who supposedly explore “dangerous” and “taboo” subjects in their narrative movies — seem tame, perfunctory, and stale. Earthlings’ ugliness invites your soul in…and it makes one confront himself. It forces man to look at himself, it holds a true mirror up to nature and reveals every scabrous sore, boil, and blemish our soul contains. Earthlings not only depicts the horror human beings inflict on animals (food industry, circus’, clothing, etc) — it is a grossly disturbing portrait of who WE are. It is the real Picture of Dorian Gray pulled out of the wardrobe and held under the sun. The terrifying footage collated here rivals anything by Chris Marker in its political urgency and is more intense and searing than anything Oliver Stone or Darren Aronofsky could have produced. But this film is even simpler than that: it is a humane movie with a humane purpose. Anyone who eats commercially produced meat from slaughterhouses after this needs to not get their heads checked…but their soul.

Earthlings makes Michael Moore’s “political documentaries” look like what they are: ironic, safe-distant, finger pointing cartoons. Jokes.

(When will the so-called Left understand that we are walking in very high cotton…we are in some disturbing times? Jokes and shallow self-congratulatory remarks and pats on the back are not what we need. John Stewart and Bill Maher’s lame commentaries do not fight the very problems we face or thin out the shadows of the forces that blind us.)

But that is not because Moore is mean-spirited or doesn’t care. It is simply that he doesn’t care enough. And because he doesn’t truly believe he is — or can be – truly affected by the subjects or ideas in his films. Moore, like so many of the so-called Liberal’s Heroes who, supposedly, like to shake up Middle-Class America and shock us about political and social realities (Lee, Tarantino, Stone, Jay-Z, etc) is just not a man of passion.

He is a man of commerce. Monson is a man of passion.

Earthlings is like a great punk-rock song, it is like an Animal Rights’ Native Son, in the sense that it seeks to destroy preconceptions, fantasies, and false views. (Read Richard Wright‘s introductory note on the writing of Native Son — his intention was to make racists fall to their feet, choke themselves — if not the book itself. He didn’t want his book to be “liked,” he wanted the proponents of racism to be stunned into having a soul…) Earthlings attempts to do this – resulting in its status as possibly the hardest film anyone will ever have the privilege of watching. And it is done with the fervor, insistence, and hope that Sue Coe imbues her paintings and illustrations of animal abuse and human depravity. Coe wants to reach out and bend your spleen. So does Monson’s documentary. And we need this now more than ever.

I don’t know of many contemporary popular films or works of music that do this. Poetry, although no longer even published on the underground as it was 40 years ago, still does it. Painting, too. Because of their personal approaches, but film and drama has no rancor or liberating spirit. Because it wants too many awards.

May our teeth be steely and vigilant in the shallow flesh of man’s brain! And may the artist/truth seeker take center stage again in our culture’s exploration of itself. We are there, folks, underneath your blankets.
We live with you, we know how far the shadows stretch and it is our mission to not only measure the crawling darkness across the floor, but the growing shallow end of the pool marked “humanity.”
It was just 6 centuries ago when the water fell…
The sadism reared it’s ugly head for a great big bite with the decimation of the Indian and its folly fell into blinding glee with the last days of chattel slavery.

But it still exists as the lynch-pin and the base of all our constructions.

And I myself, ignorant and complicit, am guilty of contributing to its tower. But wake-up calls are not about making one feel guilty, they are much worse: they are about making one change one’s life.

You must ask yourself: What do you eat? Why do you eat it? Where does your food come from? And how can we allow the suffering and torture of millions of living creatures to go on so that we can “eat”? Call it muckracking, revolutionary art, propaganda, Hippie-agitation, Vegan-psychosis, whatever the hell you want to label Earthlings and the energy it will, inevitably, bring up. But one thing for sure is this: there is not one person on the planet who can or should turn a blind eye to what we are doing to the animals of our planet, the environment, and ourselves.

Take it from me, folks. There’s no proselytizer like a convert. As a former meat-eater, I can admit and understand the unwillingness to look at what we are actually doing to animals. I lied about it for many years. It wasn’t until I wrote and released “Lying Meat,” a collection of poems and meditations on the nature of man’s cruelty and hypocrisy (including my own) that I was able to fully develop and allow my consciousness to expand: I had to point the finger at myself. Man lies to himself every day, in fact — he must, to a certain degree. If he didn’t he’d never have the ability to function past twelve o’clock noon. But to continue this charade is to perpetuate the system of torture and mind-control that institutions forcibly instill. How many white people knew very well what was still happening to blacks in the United States in 1950 but did nothing about it? How many white people knew about lynchings that were being committed against other human beings and did nothing? How many blacks did nothing? How many men know about rape but cease to take action and confront the perpetrators or at least try to be more responsible and try to evoke a more progressive outlook in their son’s eyes by? This would at least help fight some of the misogyny in our life, no?

Well, I urge every meat eater alone — just the meat eaters — to take a step back and watch this film. We need to start somewhere, but don’t you, dear reader, feel as if man is doomed to always having to “re-invent the wheel?” What is wrong with us?

I don’t write this as an insistence to be angry. I write this as an insistence to be sad. Very very sad. Mourn not for what we may do to the animals on this planet, but what we do to our own innate sense of right and wrong. Because while man has found its way, very conveniently, to try to justify such an abomination such as slavery or genocide — we know seek to spit and chew on the remains of our corrupted human soul by applying these pathological defenses to everything: supporting politicians, war, drones, insurance companies, bank bailouts, racism, sexism. Even child abuse. So I urge you to mourn for the human spirit that may never be what we want it to be. Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with your world. Earthlings has reminded me of this. It is a true “soul” film — as in a movie that has soul and encourages the inner reflections of a writhing soul.

As we have a tremendous catalog of “soul music”, perhaps we need “soul cinema” (regardless of religion or political affiliation — which is all a mirage at the end of the day, a convenient way for man to delude himself and NOT take responsibility). True expressions of the soul is what art is anyway Whatever makes us feel and reflect has soul. True journalism and activism makes us act. And while action will only take place when a boiling point has been reached, it can never occur unless the soul has been awakened. That is why revolutions shock — because they are the results of the spirit finally breaking free. The people in power don’t believe that “the people” are actually in touch with…themselves. They are shocked when they “feel” their oppression. This is implicit in our society, our phony intellectual NY Times East Coast Liberal Arts Collegiate bullshit. They preach: sympathy, but not empathy. They encourage “thinking” but not “feeling” — making the dangerous assumption that they are not one and the same.

I applaud Shaun Monson. I admire his talent, but it was his unfettered ability to see this project through. And it is the un-popular underdog who often has the biggest impact. Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, John Brown, Thoreau, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman — these are just a small handful of names of Americans who have taken risks to bring truth and justice and humanity to light. With the death of Pete Seeger and Amiri Baraka within the first month of 2014, Monson has reminded me that truth and creativity and determination are not dead, are not museum pieces — but living breathing concepts in the air. But it ain’t easy. And it is getting harder and harder to connect to people, to engage in dialogue, to engage in dialectics, to even…cut through our own sheer stupidity.

Monson’s film is hard-hitting and not easy to take. But “no pain, no gain” — that applies to art as well as athletics. Frederick Douglass said if there’s no struggle then there is no progress. Well at this moment we must struggle within ourselves and at ourselves — without a vanity mirror. We can learn a lot about our savagery by watching Earthlings. More importantly, if you are still able to feel or think in this 21st Century Circus, Earthlings will encourage you to never give in to apathy or vulgar commercialism and sadistic violence. Three things the corporations of the world and our own United States Government want us to not only accept — but believe in.

Shame on us all.

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Unseen Portrait

I realized this morning that I could never have met Mandela after he had been released from jail
Because I was not famous

Just another brown face trying to carve out my legacy amidst rejection letters, poorly written poems, and richly dreamt dreams that try to reconcile all of the sins
of irresponsible men in waiting rooms
and the eulogies for all tomorrow’s children
who, further removed from the gray heaven of blood and electric typewriters,
have come to accept a world where folk heroes are not born
but made
by a media conglomerate
who had no interest in freedom or humanity in the first place

I accept tonight that I will never meet the Dalai Lama,
I am not powerful enough
In fact, I am quite weak –
Too weak

And, as some bird in the twilight corner of the sky knows,
The way my sore teeth concede:
A raw nerve never gets a break
It only gets
removed

*

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Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s 2001 cult classic is now available online!

“Raw, provocative, and demanding.”
— Cara Buckley, The Miami Herald

As an Act of Protest (2001)

Commemorating the 13 Year anniversary of AS AN ACT OF PROTEST, a restored assembly of scenes has been uploaded and released on the web in an attempt to make parts of the film available to its cult fans and introduce it to a new generation as well.

Featuring a cameo by the Last Poets and original music by Michael Wimberly and Charles Gayle, this cinematic tone-poem is a “clear line in the sand” that demands the eradication of racism and police brutality and seems all the more, creepily relevant somehow in the aftermath of the murder of 7-year of Aiyana Jones and Trayvon Martin. Shot on the first Canon XL-1 on the cusp of the so-called “digital revolution”, this feature film was not only representative of a new “urban-guerilla cinema”, but a personal one as well, setting a bar for the new wave of protest art and ‘concrete basement’ film-making that took the ethos of early Rap and Punk and mixed it with a freewheeling desire to express the darker corners of our society and allow genuine rage (as opposed to the offensive, forced pandering of Hollywood media) back into the frame of American cinema. Ambitious and supremely flawed, what the movie lacks in formal technique it makes up with style, passion, and originality — just like a punk band or rap group might have done if they had made films instead of albums.

Gritty, strange, and unexpectedly poetic, this movies is an artistic response to the rampant police brutality under the Giuliani administration in the 1990′s, which culminated in the murder of Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets by four white NYPD officers, As an Act of Protest was deemed the best black film of 2002 by East Coast cultural critic Kam Williams and developed a cult following.

Not screened publicly in the USA since 2003, the master tapes were destroyed by Kangalee while living in Berlin, depressed and feeling a failure as a “protest artist” and nearly ashamed of his own past work. Renewed interest in the film came as a result of the publication of his poetry in 2010 and the more recent police brutality incidences and egregious examples of racism that only continue to prove that America is “walking in terrible darkness.” Both editor Isaiah Singer and Dennis Leroy Kangalee tried their best to salvage the most recent cut of the film and repair the shoddy sound mix.

“…Powerful…Almost more of a documentary than a feature film, As an Act of Protest aims to teach and shock and succeeds on both counts.”
— Walter Dawkins, Variety

Che Ayende as Cairo Medina, the actor who goes insane due to the racism & apathy around him

Che Ayende as Cairo Medina, the actor who goes insane due to the racism & apathy around him

Re-discovered a decade later, the movie can now be seen as a coming of age story and meditation on colonization, class, violence, and what it means to be an artist–especially in times of great social turmoil and confusion. Although the film specifies “racism” as the eternal evil of society, it becomes a broad metaphor and can be applied to any form of oppression and any circumstance where brutality of thought or deed has encorached upon another living creature’s life.

The result is an exhaustive blend of neo-realism, expressionism, melodrama, and B-Movie Horror. Acerbic, urgent, and emotionally arresting at times — it deserves repeated viewings and the opportunity to be re-discovered. Boasting excellent performances, strong writing, and radical editing, it was Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s first movie and was made as if he knew it would be his only one.

“While watching As an Act of Protest, as was true in a Cassavetes film, I felt as though the principal actors weren’t so much acting as they were pouring out before the camera, depictions of the way people really behave…it is in the scenes where Abner and Cairo discuss with each other, their rage as African American men, that the film is so compelling.”

– Hugh Pearson, author of Shadow of a Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America

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