September 9th, 2010
Blacks in Fashion, Fashion News, Rihanna
Just in Time for Fashion Week: Proenza Schouler Debuts Offensive Short Film “Act da Fool”
By Claire

Design duo Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough of Proenza Schouler recently unleashed a controversial short film/advertisement called “Act da Fool”:

In the four minute video we hear the profanity-laced narration of a young black Southern girl who appears alternatively drinking a 40 or hanging with her friends who she says, “can act like wild animals.” All the while, she talks about smoking cigarettes, doing ‘messed up $hit,” and “Acting da Fool”
The video is chock full of ebonics–and negative stereotypes about African-Americans (the girls wear large, unkempt afros, play basketball, and give the camera the finger):

The film’s motives and point seemed unclear at first, so I looked to this interview by Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, where they discussed how they came up with their concept:

In sum they said they were trying to, “find the beauty in something society has refused” and tell the story of girls who have been, “beaten down and disenfranchised, but still find something to believe in.” Apparently the short film was inspired by the movie Kids and was conceived by Kids writer, Harmony Korine:

Kids, which had a multicultural cast including Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, focused on the struggle of poor teenagers and skaters in New York City. Writer Korine went to NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, and perhaps used the people he met and his experiences in New York as a skater in Washington Square Park to inform his writing.

What empirical research did he conduct for his latest ‘masterpiece’?
He told the New York Times that while in Nashville, he, “used to hang out with this gang of black girls that were really hardcore delinquents, and I always loved them.” He continued, “Sometimes we would walk home from school and I would just watch them like set stuff 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.”

Ok, but aside from the young girls used as models in the film–one cast member worked at the local zoo, another at a school for the blind, one is a double dutch champion–was anyone involved with the creation of the film African-American?

I went through the credits to see if anyone listed–from stylist, to editor, to production assistant–could have lent a bit of input to this African-American portrayal. Behold, the pictures I could find of the team behind the scenes: Mel Ottenberg, Scott Pierce, Adam Robinson, Lauren Edelstein, Lauren Taylor. I also searched for photos of the people given special thanks: Jen Brill, Bryan Boone, Ruth Inouye, Marisa Pucci, Mary Pierson, Aaron Rose, Shea Steele, Rachel Korine, Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Jeff Rudes, Shirley Cook, Alejandro Cardenas, Stephanie Dane, and Justinian Kfoury:

Not one black face.
With seemingly no African-American input, the film didn’t and couldn’t offer a fair or accurate portrayal of the African-American experience.
I’m all for creating art and making people think, but when it comes to sensitive issues like race, you would hope that the people responsible would go over and above to properly do their homework.
Perhaps Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough’s had good intentions, but the final product, instead of “finding the beauty in something society has refused,” gave society more reasons to continue to refuse the disenfranchised.
They did admit to the New York Times that they live in a closed, insular world. Lazaro said, “What’s great is that we don’t have anyone telling us what to do. This job is like a cultural- territorial- thing, you put your finger up to the wind and see what you’re thinking and go with it. That’s just a result of our living and our experiences. Our collections are very autobiographical, I guess, our references are our own life.” Harmony added, “I just do what I want to do. I don’t really ask too many questions. I drink lots and lots of malt liquor and snort white-out and just follow the rainbow.
It’s obvious they don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t really care to know.
Unapologetic ignorance. I see no beauty in that.
What do you think?

*My Twitter buddy Erica Kennedy (@Feminista09) said that, ” They want a reaction, they got it. The FEEL of it is great. They can’t offend black customers. They don’t have any.”
I’m not so sure they don’t have black customers:

Rihanna and Kaleena of Dirty Money in Proenza Schouler Spring/Summer 2011

*First viewed at
*Read Erica Kennedy’s thoughts here.
*Read Proenza Schouler and Harmony Korine’s interview with the New York Times here.

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39 Responses to “Just in Time for Fashion Week: Proenza Schouler Debuts Offensive Short Film “Act da Fool””

  1. Mz. Bronze says:

    This is not an assessment of a short film…this is good journalism. Good questions followed by simple photos to prove a very valid point; people will sell you bullchit if you let them. The flaws in their response to making yet another racist film is so juvenile. I’d beat my son if he ever gave me a weak response for creating something so vile. My real question is, why do white people put soo much energy hating us. Don’t they need to find Bin Laden or stop Iran from making a nuclear bomb or something….

  2. pz says:

    i’m in awe!!!! not in a good way, though!

  3. vain319 says:

    Horrible,and staged at the same time. This is extremely stereotypical and misinformed.Absolute rubbish! drinking 40′s? REALLY? I will never buy their brand and I will be spreading the word about this poor marketing stunt decision.

  4. DANG. That’s all I have to say about this. I actually watched it a couple nights ago and I was rather confused as to what inspired the concept so I went on the website and I saw that the designers had posted the same video you posted of them discussing the video and the whole time they were talking I just had my eyebrows knit closely together because they were saying a whole lot of NOTHING. Ok, they want to be avant garde and go against the grain and have all this juxtaposition but at the same time it’s just what you said, there is not one single black person who contributed in the creating of this film! Even though that wouldn’t help matters all that much, but it at least people would know that the different scenarios portrayed in this film weren’t thought up completely by another race’s depiction of black people! SMH.

  5. A horrific depiction of black people. The fact that no African-Americans were involved in the production speaks volumes to the lack of thought that went into this.

    I don’t understand how they saw that this was ok. I mean drinking 40s and playing basketball in 4″ heels? Where’s the “beauty” in that? Major failure their part. I used to like their shoes too.

  6. hassia says:

    Not so sure, I did not find it disrespectful at all. And yes it did remind me of the Kids movie of a few years back. I actually found it quite clever. The Afros seemed to encapsulate the wave of natural hair we have going on at the moment. To use this scenery to sell high priced clothing is again nothing short of genius.

  7. Layla says:

    Oh yeah and the forties speak to the new wave of alcoholism in the black community? Get real.
    I didn’t even notice the clothes with all the poor lighting and distracting behavior. Ads or films should make you want to buy, this just leaves a horrible taste in my mouth. I’m disappointed in this brand because I liked it. Now I don’t.
    They were so lazy with the production. Chloe Sevigny is a good friend of the group, and that’s probably all they used to make the connection between the designers and the writer. Everyone else involved is part of a tight knit group of socialites who have probably never been in the ‘ghetto’ one day in their lives.
    The fact that they would publicly put their name to this trash is such an overt insult. It’s beyond words. They should be ashamed.
    I wonder when all these fashion people will just say ‘fuck it’ and start wearing swastikas, shaving their heads and white sheets with hoods to fashion shows. “With a finger to the wind.”

  8. Michelle says:

    HHmmm I read the whole post BEFORE I watched the video and it kind of made me think of this article I read yesterday on BGLH [[]] and that even though there were no black people helping to make it that it might not be that bad. [[I dont believe that only black people know about black people, its just not true but anywho]] after watching it basically THEY COULD HAVE KEPT THAT SHIT! I mean honestly it was more of the things they were saying then the actual visuals because I’ve seen and I think we all have seen things like that happen in the hood/ghetto/whatever but it was the words && thoughts they paired with the actions that were just offensive “the world is a big ball of shit” “thats why i love cigarettes” GTFOH!

    ok let me stop but I could go on lol

  9. bohobabe says:

    Of course its stereotypical. Girls who sleep in trees…like monkeys.
    Maybe I should be offended but I am not. It sounds as he was influenced by a group of black”bad girls”. It is all over fashion and music. Hello Rhianna and Kesh portray styled wild girls. No one cries racist regarding her contrived trashy image just fierce.

  10. birdie says:

    I’m sorry, but I can’t say that I was extremely offended, because I wasn’t. The theme about making out of a dead in town was excellent, in my opinion. I think some people who are from dead-end towns, as am I, have seen. I’ve groups of people that do act like wild animals and do messed up ‘stuff’. No, we didn’t run around in packs, but we dreamt of making it out.

    Nowhere does it say that is how all black females act. And the fact that non blacks were involved in the creation doesn’t automatically make it ‘racist’.

    Are there real issues we could be paying attention to?

  11. I agree. Its a bit disturbing, not to mention pointless.

    @birdie You’re on a fashion blog. You may want to visit a news, political or social issues blog if you want REAL issues. Just saying…

  12. Beyani says:


  13. zy says:

    *sigh* i am simply so very tired of folk continuously overstepping boundaries and then trying to call it “art”… gimme a damn break already…

  14. myfashionableplanetdotcom says:

    This video makes no sense to me at all. Saying they were exploring the beauty of what is usually rejected doesnt justify the stereotypes perpetuated.

    Im also sad because as minorities themselves Jack and Lazzaro should know what its like to be put in a box and people prejudging you based on your ethnicity.

    everyone needs to do better

  15. LaWanna says:

    I think the models look amazing and the film quality and music are enchanting. The only thing that bothered me are the 40s. Last summer a friend and I bought 40s and drank them for irony (like white people do) and I haven’t had one since. The fact that the director decided to have the girls drinking straight from the bottle illustrates how little white folks know about us, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Being black in America is like living in shadow- the general public gets the basic outline of who we are but knows nothing of the details.

  16. birdie says:

    @Fabulously Me
    Yea sweetheart, I got that, but no one is discussing the fashion aspect of the video. So if you’re going to dig into social issue, lets make it a REAL social issue.


  17. FashionEdytorTn says:

    Im still trying to figure out where “fashion” comes in to play in this film?!?!? Racism isnt dead by a long shot and will rear its ugly head at any given moment…Sad but true..

  18. Lola says:

    lol @ the title. Act da fool? really? this is 1994 bozos. The best way to handle trolls like these two nincompoops is just to ignore them. It’s as simple as that.

    Carry on
    *In Tim Gunn’s voice*

  19. sun.kissed says:

    I’m not sure I’m offended by this foolishness considering it doesn’t make much sense. The visuals and what she is saying don’t really add up.

  20. esme says:

    totally agree with your assessment claire.

  21. CatsMind says:

    This is BS! I’m wondering what they say when Black celebs come to their studio to see the collections?

  22. wallflower says:

    How can something be stereotypical AND original? Marinate on that.

  23. ermm says:

    I’m with birdie,
    I think its a cool concept. Every time black ppl are portrayed, someone will have something to say, whether its the stereotypes being portrayed (for black ppl, any negative way we’re portrayed is a stereotype) or conversely ppl will comment on the lack of ‘blackness’ a black personality is portraying. I think the concept is cool. Not a lot of ppl will admit to the ‘blakc stereotypes’ portrayed as having any value in fashion. and that’s what fashion is about to me, finding beauty unexpectedly.
    So next time they want to make a vid they should stick to what they know, scandanavian chicks riding their unicorns or whatever.
    The way black ppl REJECT images of others that slightly resemble us is astounding. it’s not you, no one is saying it is. Just take it for what it is. I don’t see myself in these girls, but you guys are reaching.
    Claire said: the girls wear large, unkempt afros, play basketball, and give the camera the finger.
    I know you’re a fan of natural hair Claire, but YOU were the one that lumped afros in with negative behaviour, and subsequently race and negative behaviour. You were the one that subliminally connected 2 things that aren’t necessarily connected. If this was about rednecks no one would say: the girls wear large, unkempt white girl hair, play rugby, and give the camera the finger.
    But I appreciate you allowing the makers of the video their perspective, a lot of ppl wouldn’t have for shock. And I also do not feel as though a black person needs to be involved when black ppl are being portrayed. You’re basically justifying why there are so few black faces on display in fashion with that statement.

  24. Claire says:

    @ermm I think you’re reaching in saying I equate afros with negative behavior. I am a champion of natural hair, and think that if they were portraying people with class or wanted to reach for a better portrayal, the girls would have have their hair ‘done.’ To me the filmmakes are reverting back to the Buckwheat times or those films in the Civil Rights era where black people were portrayed as having crazy hair that was unruly and uncontrollable. An afro is fine, an unruly and uncontrollable afro signifies (to me) an unruly and uncontrollable people, which I think is the negative stereotype that has been pegged on black people since the days of slavery.

    And I do feel it would be great if the fashion industry would open its doors to allow a black person some input on how blacks are portrayed. I and other commenters have said it before: if a vocal black person were in the room when that Lebron King Kong cover was chosen for Vogue, perhaps they could have voiced concerns that noone else saw. Perhaps Vogue would have thought, “wow, someone is offended?” Maybe they didn’t know the cover would cause controversy. Black people have been trying for years to escape these same stereotypes–that we’re violent, lazy, easily angered, stupid, animal like– for decades. But even with a black president, we can’t get a portrayal, in fashion, that shows us as beautiful and worthy (not as caricatures).
    Your last sentence is viable: there are fewer black faces on fashion magazines because there aren’t black people behind the scenes. That’s no secret.
    The solution is to have more black people behind the scenes so that our portrayals are fair and accurate (and not a representation that someone in some insular bubble thinks/projects onto us).

  25. NLB says:

    Okay… *Phew* Here I go.

    I grew up in an inner city community, and I LOVED this film. Like some of the other commenters mentioned I HAVE SEEN GIRLS DO THIS SHIT!! AND WORSE!!!

    In high school some chick came to class with a BOTTLE OF VODKA and told the teacher it was WATER (LOL!)

    Even though I was “in” the hood, I wasn’t “of” the hood. I went off to college, etc, etc.

    But it was at college that I came across a curious group: Middle Class Black People.

    So I wanna ask, ALL these commenters who are sooooo offended at this video and can’t believe how stereotypical it is DO YOU ACTUALLY KNOW ANYONE FROM THE ‘HOOD? HAVE YOU SPENT TIME THERE?


    It seems that all the black middle class is good for (No offense) is to cry “racism” at every turn. WAKE UP AND GET REAL! The hood is NOT a fun place. There are people who DO think it’s a ball of shit and who DO love cigarettes!

    Now, a separate discussion is whether this imagery should have been used to promote a fashion line.

    But as far as the “stereotypicalness” of the video, lol. It’s not a stereotype! For many black American females THIS SHIT IS REAL!

  26. Claire says:

    @NLB I know there are people like this in the ghetto, some are in my family. My main issue is that the dominant fashion culture hides their cousin Jimbo who might moonlight on Jerry Springer, and puts their fabulously refined niece in the magazine. I rarely see popular culture (with the exception of talk shows) talking about or uplifting ‘white trash.’ Which is probably why most believe that ‘ghetto’ refers to black when more white people live in poverty than blacks. It’s not about reality, it’s about perception.
    Larger culture has had the benefit of having an untarnished, patrician, elite image for a long time, while we keep getting stuck in the gutter. As it relates to fashion, I think we deserve better. People who consume Proenza Schouler are not from the hood. And neither are people who even know what Proenza Schouler is, or the people who would watch this video.

  27. NLB says:

    Duly noted… but for how long can I be concerned about the media that white people create for other white people to be consumed? I feel that so much of this talk is theoretical and we’ve lost sight of how this actually affects flesh & blood black people.

    So what if Proenza Schouler uses the hood for the images? Isn’t it on us as black people to reform these communities so they can’t continue to be cultural fodder for people to use at will.

    And re: white people in poverty… Well yes, there are numbers but then there are percentages. I’m pretty sure (although I don’t have the stats on hand) that a higher PERCENTAGE of black people than white live in the ghetto.

    And re white people having the benefit of hiding their trash, well black people do it too! Isn’t that why we hate Essence Magazine? Because it treats every black celebrity with kid gloves? I’m pretty sure that if black people were in the position whites are in, they would do the same thing — hide the ugly within their community.

    And my point still goes unaddressed; while the middle class is ALWAYS (literally… ALWAYS) up in arms about how white people perceive them (which I suspect stems more from embarrassment than true, reformative concern) they do NOTHING to actually impact these low-income communities. Middle class blacks won’t touch the ghetto with a ten-foot pole, yet they’re the first to wanna complain about something.

    So, as a proud hood girl (although the hood is really messed up, lol), I’m going to take this video at face value. No, I’m not a Proenza Schouler consumer so technically it wasn’t made for me, but it still spoke more to me than ANY Tyler Perry film I’ve seen.

    It was honest and it was real. “Stereotypes” and all.

  28. ermm says:

    Ok Claire, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. The idea that African hair is only acceptable to society when it’s ‘done’, that’ not something I can cosign. And I do not think these girls’ hair is unruly. I gave your props for having championed natural hair in the past. But what you’re saying is that our natural hair needs to go some kinda process before its acceptable. I have natural hair, I love these girls’ hair. They don’t have red and blue weaves on, or anything equally outrageous. So the negativity you see in how their hair was styled is, in my opinion, more of a reflection of your own beliefs. I think its more about freedom. The girls, or at least the narrator, has the vocabulary that her life has given her, but what she’s saying is amazing and beautiful. I kinda wish you could get past the hair and the ‘ebonics’ and see that.
    And I say this as a person who isn’t blind to prejudice. It does exist, I’ve seen it portrayed in the media time and time again. But this time I’ll have to pass.
    And thank you for taking the time out to explain where you’re coming from. I’m not African American, I’m from Africa, I understand why some things would be more of an issue for you than for me when depicting stereotypes that pertain to African Americans in particular, rather than black people the world over.

  29. ermm says:

    Oh and another thing Claire, and again, I mean this in the spirit of friendly discourse, no disrespect, but you can’t equate how black ppl are portrayed with how ‘mainstream ppl’ (ie white ppl) are portrayed. Invariably to depict black ppl as the same as mainstream would really just to second rate to using an actual white person. If black ppl are going to be portrayed in the media it will likely be because they bring something to the table that other races can’t. I see plenty of shows on tv about neurotic Jewish ppl, not many about Jewish ppl who are just the same as white ppl. The same goes for other races. I mean, we have BET, thats supposed to portray us the way we want to be portrayed, but I hear nothing but negative things about BET. because black ppl are just conflicted, we want to be seen as real, celebrate our own culture but also fit seamlessly into the mainstream culture.
    Phew, I can go on for ages. Thats a much bigger debate. Bottom line, I applaud Proenza Schouler for looking elsewhere for beauty.

  30. urapoopeyfacetomatonose says:

    This post has a great abundance of whitesplaining from privileged white chicks talking about how “THEY’RE” not offended. Of course you’re not offended. You’re white. End of Story. You’re never going to get it. No one gives a shit if you’re offended or not because you wouldn’t understand what to be offended about unless you were a POC. And don’t even try to argue for the sake of this movie because it fucking sucks, just like Harmony Korine. “Ohhhh how cute and edgy, they’re minorities and they’re committing crime!” Yeah, instead of talking about how poverty contributes to this problem, try to make it fashionable instead. Hey you white shitstain, fuck you. Harmony Korine is a moron, and this proves his ship has long sailed when he did “Gummo”. Stick to talking about horny teenagers and rednecks.

  31. j says:






  32. B. says:

    @urapoopeyfacetomatonose I’m white and I’m offended by it. I get it, they have ignorantly used racial stereotypes in order to sell a high-end product to people just like those who made the short film i.e. privileged white people. Don’t assume that all white people think the same. We’re not all ignorant “shitstains”. I understand your frustration, but your comment verges on racist against white people.

    Anyway, I realise that for many people, the difficulty of growing up in poverty is a reality. Poverty doesn’t see race, it affects people of all races globally. There’s no way the poverty of any group should be used to sell fashion items, I don’t care who made them or who came up with the advertising concept, it’s exploitation.

    Although, I’m Australian and so I don’t get the “40′s” thing. Got no idea what a “40″ is. That’s all that baffles me.

  33. [...] Schouler released an inflammatory, controversial video lampooning black women via The Fashion Bomb. About the video, a critic tweeted “They can’t offend black customers. They don’t [...]

  34. Kitana says:


    Girls in the hood do rock Proenza………….. Well my hood, South side Chicago 51st and Calumet they wear Proenza and be extra frantic while doin so.

  35. [...] around very dirty, derelict and ghetto environs. [I first caught wind of it here]. Some folks, like Claire Sulmers of the Fashion Bomb, a popular site in the black blogosphere were outraged that these young women [...]

  36. [...] Recently, Proenza Schouler released an inflammatory, controversial video lampooning black women via The Fashion Bomb. About the video, a critic tweeted “They can’t offend black customers. They don’t [...]

  37. Anonymous says:

    Not that it matters being that I am writing this a year after your post but Ruth Inouye listed in the special thanks is black

  38. Alina Nguyen says:

    THANK YOU for writing this, Claire. I’m appalled at how little critical media coverage regarding race I’ve found on Harmony Korine x Proenza Schouler’s collaboration. I couldn’t even FINISH “Act da Fool”… I am waiting for more people to write on their other incredibly offensive (towards Native American history/culture) short “Snowflakes”.

    Interesting how many comments here seem to sympathize with the film, like “that’s how I grew up & that’s how it was!” etc. — really makes me think about the thin, thin lines between the structural INTERNALIZATION of cultural stereotypes & the ways in which they are reproduced. I recently wrote on Sofia Vergara’s “Latina spitfire” stereotypical representation in Modern Family (the ONLY main person of color on the show other than the adopted asian baby, who isn’t really a character) and noticed how many girls commenting on youtube videos of Vergara were saying ,”That’s JUST like my mom! LOL” etc. etc., not noticing WHO IS BEHIND these shows (white folks) and how their own racially sexualized Latina representations are constantly being manufactured to teach them difference through a negative, mocking lens.

    Thank you again, Claire. I hope to produce some work on these videos within the next coming months.

  39. Julie says:

    I don’t really see how this is racist? Okay first of all, how are you overlooking the african american models that starred in this? they are an integral part of it’s production. He is not trying to represent african americans as a whole he specifically said he had a group of friends that acted like this and that is what he based it off of. as for the 40s they drink- haven’t any of you seen kids? telly and caspar are drinking 40s the whole time and they are two white boys, this obviously is just another thing korine is drawing on, he probably used to drink 40s. I think the fact that you guys find this racist is a little racist, how is this supposed to reflect african americans as a whole? they are just a group of kids that want to get out and want to find beauty in the earth their race has nothing to do with it

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