Though overly long and slow-moving at times, “As an Act of Protest” is a powerful, albeit depressing, film about a man (Luis Laporte) who lets racism consume him to the point of losing everything, including his sanity. Watching Laporte brood for almost 2½ hours is hard to take, but director Dennis Leroy Moore validates that the institutional racism black males must endure can drive sensitive people to the brink. Almost more of a documentary than a feature film, “As an Act of Protest” aims to teach and shock — and succeeds on both counts. Controversial subject matter will limit pic’s options to urban arthouses.
Young African-American actor Cairo Medina (Laporte) and high-strung director Abner Sankofa (Dennis Leory Moore) drop out of prestigious NYC conservatory, angered that the school refuses to do any black theater. They form their own theater company in Harlem, but their money-hungry manager, J.J. (Steven E. Dye), can’t save the theater from its all-white board and landlord, who disapprove of their work. Abner gives up on theater, setting Cairo on a downward spiral.
Thesp is attacked by white thugs, and after visiting his father — who thinks his son is wasting his life being consumed by hate — Cairo’s girlfriend, Karen (Crystal D. Mayo), leaves him when he verbally abuses her white friend (Sarah Lewis), blaming the friend’s ancestors for racial injustices.
Then Cairo’s younger brother, Georgie (Mtume J. Grant), is murdered by police (earlier the film touches on the controversy surrounding the wrongful police shooting of Amadou Diallo as one of the events that drives Cairo’s hatred); and an African-American professor (Ward Nixon), from whom Cairo seeks help with his rage, has him arrested. At that point Cairo loses it, leading to an ugly conclusion.
Thesping is strong in the major roles, weak in supporting characters. Script is more a polemic than a story. Lensing (by Mark Banning) and editing (by John Burns) are top-drawer. Dour musical score is perfect fit for subject matter. Other tech aspects are first-rate.