Proenza Schouler’s Act Da Fool just might make us act a fool. The controversial short film by Harmony Korine takes an unyielding look at young black girls living on the edge of society and life. In a place that looks like nowhere and everywhere, Korine who wrote the seminal film Kids, directed by Larry Clark, gives us a glimpse of young, black girls trying to find themselves against a backdrop of poverty and urban despair. People are up-in-arms over the fact that fashion darlings Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler are presenting the film. However, it is quite disturbing that people are not critiquing Korine’s filmic choices in this short to the same extent. It seems that some have given him a pass because of the success of Kids, but this film is not Kids by any stretch of the imagination. Like Proenza Schouler’s fashions, it is merely a knock-off of Kids and urban culture, given cultural capital because of who is empowered to tell the story. The girls are the object of Korine and now the world’s gaze, taking 40s to the head and smoking because “we’re all going to die anyway.” It is pretentious and presumptuous and reflects the hegemonic model that informs the fashion and entertainment industries – appropriating subcultures, repackaging and selling it to the world as if it is new or different. McCollough and Hernandez speak of using urban spaces as inspiration for their fashions further problematizing the film and the sponsorship. The film offers a snapshot of the poverty, which quite frankly isn’t new or different. Upon learning of the film, I immediately thought of the film Mahogany (1975). Tracy, the lead character played by Diana Ross, is photographed for a high fashion shoot against the backdrop of the Chicago projects, by a storied photographer Sean, played by the late Anthony Hopkins. While Mahogany is fictional and not a great film, this scene highlights how power is fluid, but in the end, it is the colonizing gaze that wins out. In my mind, this is the case with Act Da Fool. It is exploitation masquerading as high art, misusing the very people (young people of color), girls in this instance, that inform and inspire the fashion industry to make themselves cool. The narration, which is supposed to give the girls authority over the film, does not erase what is happening which is their objectification. I’m wondering what was said in between what is actually heard during the narration in the film. The credits refer to the girls as models. Perhaps they should try objects of the colonizing gaze 2.0? Just for clarification, swaggerjacking a.k.a. appropriating disenfranchised people’s culture to make yourself look good, is not cool now and wasn’t cool in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries either.
Read a different take on the film at Clutch Magazine.
Check out the film (NSFW - NOT SAFE FOR WORK).
Check out Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez thoughts about the film: