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“Art” or racism? A Look at Proenza Schouler’s Fall Collection

Snapshot from the video 'ACT DA FOOL.' (Youtube)

Imagine every negative black female stereotype ever created: ignorant, uneducated, loud, malt liquor drankin’, joint smokin’ and topped off with “wild” hair. Now imagine these stereotypes compiled into four minutes and 18 seconds and you have the short art film “Act Da Fool,” written by Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, the designers of fashion house Proenza Schouler.  The video, directed by Harmony Korine, is a promotion for their fall 2010 collection and is available on YouTube.

How can this racist film be an inspiring work of art?

The title, “Act Da Fool,” tipped me off right away that the video might depict poor, lower-class black women in a non-flattering way. As a fashionista from one of the poorest inner cities in America – Richmond, California – I am appalled at the racist mockery Hernandez and McCollough parade as “art.” I guess in our “post-racial” society, racism doesn’t exist – we have “art” instead.  In my opinion, art is thought-provoking, inspiring and a reflection of an artist’s state of mind, not used as a tool to re-introduce racist stereotypes.

The voice of the narrator in the short film introduces modern stereotypes of black violence and imprisonment with allusions to being in a gang:

“My friends and I are a gang of fools.”

The “art” continues with the classic stereotype of black women embracing drug culture. In one scene, a girl spray-paints the word “COKE” on a trash can while discussing cigarettes with her friend. Thanks, Harmony Korine, for letting us realize that black women embrace a drug that has historically destroyed their families and communities.

Proenza Schouler Presents “Act da Fool” by Harmony Korine from Youtube.

Why did the director choose the location? Why did he choose to co-opt impoverished identities? As Korine said in an interview in the New York Times:

“I used to hang out with this gang of black girls that were really hard core delinquents, and I always loved them.  Sometimes we would walk home from school and I would just watch them like set things on fire. Some of them would sleep in tree houses and things. I used to always just think they were so terrific. In some way I just kinda tapped into that story.”

I find these remarks quite unbelievable, to say the least.  Presumably Korine was using sarcasm – but it’s based in offensive negative stereotypes targeting poor lower-class African American women.

I understand irony, artistic vision and valuing beauty in people who have been systematically disenfranchised – but I would not credit this campaign with achieving those goals.  Hernandez and McCollough could have researched rural Nashville, spoken with black youth about their perspectives on fashion or at the very least had one person of African descent involved in the creative process.

“Act Da Fool” is not a work of art but rather a display of   a lack of creativity, cultural insensitivity and the designer’s lack of self-awareness surrounding their privilege. All and all, the short film shows how disconnected these designers are from their subjects.