Dutchman by Leroi Jones

Leroi Jones’s involvement in the Black Power movement of the 1960’s was darkened by black male’s experience of being accused of having uncontrolled impulses to rape white women.  This gross stereotype is connected to the false accusations made by white men and women, primarily in the south that led to thousands castrations and lynchings of black males.  The film, Dutchman, based on a play, by Leroi Jones echoes this history.   For the purposes of this essay, I write my immediate, honest response to the film.  First, the music hits me, opening with an instrumental, fast paced and intense.  The darkness of the underground station alludes to an ominous story.  A white woman wearing a tightly fit dress elicits the glance of a well-dressed black man sitting on the train.  She joins him.  The camera angled from below the seats generates a dark intensity.  The female character, Lula, frightens the man, Clay.  She immediately sexualizes him then insults him and his blackness.  Her insults offend me.  Lula carries an apple; her role as an eve character becomes clear.  She seduces him with the apple.  Lula acts crazy, intentionally excites Clay then yells.  As she moves, he follows her and the lights go dark, an allusion to the “Fall.”  I am annoyed by her behavior.  “What right do you have to wear a three button suit and striped tie?  Your grandfather was a slave.”  She calls him a nigger.  Clay calls her a Jew.  I am pleased by his retort.  He is offended, but he follows along, having been sold on the idea of having sex with her.  Clay looses himself, as if intoxicated; he is captivated by her behavior and psychological game.  Lula calls clay a ghost and a murderer.  I am reminded of Invisible Man.  At some point in the middle of the film, they look around them and the train car is filled with passengers.  Lula’s hysteria is over the top.  She begs him to have sex with her- to “rub bellies.”  I am reminded of lynching history, and the white woman’s fantasy and engagement in sex with black men.  The black man always being the one accused of assault.  Lula attacks Clay and attacks the passengers on the train.  They ignore her.  No-one stands up to her, nor do they stand up for Clay.  I am disappointed.  Lula calls Clay an Uncle Tom repeatedly and he slaps her.  The film climaxes.  Clay looses his temper, pushes her around and threatens to kill her.  Clay shows his anger.  His dialect changes.  His monologue is intense, but it pleases me.  I am proud of him.  Clay talks about the black musicians Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker and how they put messages like, “Kiss my black ass,” in their songs.  This is their release, their revolt against the way they and other blacks have been treated throughout American history.   I am amused by his honesty and reminded of reasons the New Negro Movement and Black Power Movement existed.  Clay proclaims that murder would make all black people sane.  He tells Lula to stop preaching rationalism, to let blacks speak curses to whites in code.  I am reminded of the repressive black experience.  Lula stabs Clay and finally people on the train respond by helping her.  Four white men carry his body away.  This again reminds me of lynching history.  The film becomes silent and a new scene begins.  Lula eats an apple and approaches another black man sitting alone on the train.  The final scene returns to the underground with the same menacing music that opened the film. The title, Dutchman, becomes clear.  I am overwhelmed by the symbolism, saddened by Clay’s murder, and moved by the powerful and artistic approach Leroi Jones uses to represent and comment on an aspect of the black experience in America.

Follow this link to view this film in its entirety: http://www.colorfultimes.com/2009/11/culture/film/dutchman-the-movie-55-mins/

Leila Hamdan

Memphis, TN

2013

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Filed under Arts of Africa and African Diaspora

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