After spending most of the morning reading various reviews of Proenza Schouler’s more controversial by the minute short film, “Act da Fool,” which some writers concluded is offensive, “unapologetic ignorance” and degrading, we decided that instead of being one of the first to offer our spin on online news-breaking, we’d spend the rest of the afternoon giving the short careful thought. After all, critical thinking is not only a major cornerstone of investigative reporting—it’s kinda hot, no?
But this is no investigation. We’re more interested in the questions. Which points in this film can we really argue are “degrading, demeaning and humiliating?
Ok, sans the throwback 90’s forty ounces and monkey reference. But hey, aren’t we over that?
“Act da Fool,” directed by Harmony Korine, is a deeply honest, strong and undisguised narrative about an underclass of obscured urban Black girls in America. It features the narration of one of many young Black girls in the film who recounts a reality of hopelessness juxtaposed with fading dreams, and wanting out, like, now. She says, “I hope I don’t die for a long time tho, I still got things I wanna look at.” Perhaps the most unsettling and confusing part about it all is that it’s presented by designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Herandez, the front men of the womenswear brand Proenza Schouler. The designer duo stated that they were informed by the 1995 film “Kids” —interestingly also written by Korine. McCollough and Herandez clearly wanted to offer the fashion world a visual preface to their Spring 2011 collection. And while many of us have resisted the absence of Black bodies on runways, Proenza seems to have redirected our attention to more pressing matters— young Black girl angst.
Could it be that the most “humiliating” part of this work is that it reminds us of a forgotten part of Black America we’d rather keeping forgetting?
A few have wondered about what the short film even has to do with Proenza’s collection, or fashion at all. We say the pop cultural references are all around us. We can easily point to examples of the modern Black American starlet. Recent images of Rihanna, Keri Hilson, Kesh, and even Beyonce, exhibit the hard, extreme/trashy edgy, bad girl. This is best portrayed in extreme black eyeliner, faux dark tattoos, legs spread wide open, and the lyrics that imply: I don’t give a fuck about anything. “Act da Fool” seems to do the same, but it strips the trend of glamour and chronic red bottoms.
We have to say, appropriating themes of urban despair and youth resistance; spray paint, and premature drinking included–the very opposite of the aristocratic luxury lifestyle that fashion has long evoked– is something kind of brilliant, or maybe just inevitable. Lest we forget that in a slowly recovering economy, sellers will do almost anything to get our attention.