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

September 16, 2010

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.

“Art” or racism? A Look at Proenza Schouler’s Fall Collection was published on September 16, 2010 in Letters to the Editor, Opinions

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  • http://homfrog.net Peter Berg

    This does seem a bit offensive, but perhaps this is just how these particular people really are? Perhaps it is not sarcasm and is supposed to depict these stereotypes as they exist because some small percentage really IS like that.

    “Thanks, Harmony Korine, for letting us realize that black women embrace a drug that has historically destroyed their families and communities.” This is oddly phrased. Do you mean to say that you’d rather not realize this? Or just that Ms. Korine was blunt about the subject?

    The video was amusing at a few points, but mostly it appears to be constructed for shock value. I do agree that it could have had a larger sampling of women; again, the purpose of the video was to show and tell people about “loud, ignorant, uneducated” women. A topic.

    I enjoyed the article. Thank you and I hope you continue posting about the arts.

    -Peter Berg

  • Lauren McDougald

    Peter Berg, I think you are mistaken on some points.
    First off, Harmony Korine is a man so would prefer to be referred to as Mr. Korine, I believe.

    I don’t believe it was supposed to be sarcasm or even constructed for shock value. I think that it was honestly his ode to delinquency and a sort of anarchistic way of living. He has been quoted to say it’s a religious testament. He just messed it up.

    While I think an ode to delinquency is an interesting idea… the problem that Tymeesa, myself and others who oppose the video is that all the “deliquents” are black. You say “I do agree that it could have had a larger sampling of women” yes. exactly. you summed it up yourself.

    your first paragraph is completely outrageous and makes me want to throw something “these particular people?” do you mean black people or what? ugh….

  • peter paul

    harmony wants people to see things for what they are, people like this exisit, there is nothing you can do about it. He says that when he use to hang out with a bunch of black girls. Its what hes seen in his own eyes and want people to also see. There is nothing wrong with that. Get over it

  • http://didyoualreadyc.tumblr.com/ Jeremiah

    I just want to thank you so much for expressing your opinions. And allowing a black females perspective to be available. It is so important that you are heard. This video is definitely hideous and offensive.