Since “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”, the American variation protest anthem for the civil war, art has been an incredibly powerful form of protests. This includes all different types of art, from music, to paintings, writing and movies. Famous artist Willie Bester of South Africa created many pieces to protest the Apartheid period in his country. Also Picasso famously painted Guernica in 1937, which was in response to the Bombing of a Basque country by Italians and Germans at the request of Spanish Nationalist during the Civil War. Guernica became a anti-war symbol, referenced quite often in protest still. Also political cartoons are satire, but in a lot of ways they are meant to enlighten or caution, sometimes outright protest the issues they are making cartoons about. Concerning movies, in the past their was “Battle of Algiers” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” which both technically protested individual issues. The History of Art in Protest is quite large, but these issues don’t greatly effect my generation and the generation to come. The protest or the caution in art about social alienation, discrimination and prejudice has been the most powerful and most renowned since the end of World War II. It all started with Marvin Gaye’s Soulful ballad, “What’s Going On”. Which was in response to not only the racial tension and chaos that had destroyed the lives of so many brothers and sisters in the 60s and the 70s, but also to Vietnam and the way he saw police treating protestors. All together, the name of the track said it best, it was a heartfelt plea to everyone to just get along. It felt very real, to the point where many people cried. Because chaos is sad, and by listening to a song that is protesting the chaos and everything causing it you can become very emotional.
The world has evolved, as has everyone in it. “What’s Going On” is brilliant, nevertheless no piece of art has ever come close to being as honest, intense, cautionary, angry and brilliant as “La Haine”, or Hate in English. It’s a 1995 drama set in a culturally diverse French ghetto that is about explode with rage. The movie highlights a stark difference between the suburbs La Haine takes place in and the Suburbs that Americans are used to. Suburbs in France are used for public housing only, projects like in Chicago. They are high rises, with the exact same structure as Housing projects in America. The introduction of the film is a montage of videos and images, of a protestor being gunned down for standing in front over fifty riot police, other police brutality, looting, fires and overall destruction most people wouldn’t normally associate with France. France has become a melting pot of different cultures, races and religions. For the most part a lot of Africans and Arabs have immigrated to France, which has led to a racist and negative response from the original French residents.
One unique piece of the movie is that the three characters Vinz, Said and Hurbert are Jewish, Arab and African in that order. The biggest statement of protest in the movie is that the film is shot in Black & White, so you wouldn’t judge characters by the color of the skin. You could still see their ethnicity for the most part, but more then anything its just a huge statement because it really plays a factor for the film. A non-judgmental view of the film is the best, also the conflict that is established from the beginning in La Haine, is that it’s the “Ghetto Dweller” v. Police. It’s a bleak situation, so one can also argue that there is a second reason why the movie is black & white. La Haine is bleak, but its also incredibly cool, from the revolutionary camera angles, to the flawless script, to the first time actors and just the chemistry that they all have. The raw violence, creates an open wound in most viewers minds, and its hard to heal it. Social Alienation and Prejudice has never been presented as good as this.
The plot of the movie, is that the group’s “Bro” Abdel is beaten nearly to death by the police. Few details are ever presented as to what happened, but its pretty clear that Abdel’s crime didn’t warrant massive head trauma and a coma. Its unfair, which leads to the second part of protest in the film. Nobody is there to represent them, to watch over them or to watch the police. They’re alone in a well developed country, which at that time was a battlefield. The film made it mirror 2007 Gaza Strip; burnt buildings, gunfights with police, burnt cars, tension and the intimidating presence of riot police all day around the corner. The guilty easily blend with the innocent, so that nobody is truly safe. When good deeds and staying clear from trouble still leads to police harassment and brutality, it causes people to act out and look for trouble. They almost partially lose their minds. In reality, what was there not to be bitter about?
So following the news of the police’s beating on Abdel, hothead Vinz, who stole a cops gun at the same riot the previous night, vows to kill a policeman if Abdel dies. As the French rendition of the ultra popular golden era rap song “Sound of Da Police” rings through the projects, its balanced by Edith Piaf. Not very metaphorical, just suggestive to the tone for the remainder of the movie.
“Hate Breeds Hate, Vinz?”- Said
When the group is arguing about the gun, Said makes this statement and everything changes. It’s a very early part of the movie, near the beginning, its extremely memorable as well. After that quote the journey through tear gas and blood ridden France finally begins. La Haine, inspired me so much, creatively I felt the raw energy and the realistic grit that the movie possessed and it gave me so many great ideas. It inspired me to not be judgmental because I never know where someone is from or how he was brought up. Its about equality, it takes watching La Haine a few times to see anything beautiful from it. Nevertheless it has a influential message to it, and it is surprisingly very neutral. After seeing La Haine id thought id never see or hear about any other type of protest or cautionary movie, song, book quite like La Haine. I knew for a fact, Social Alienation could never be handled quite like La Haine. I was wrong though, the issue was tackled sensationally in three minutes by one of the United Kingdoms finest.
“Ill Manors”, a song from London rapper Ben Drew (aka Plan B). Ben grew up in the East End of London, and had been known for his violent, horrifying and socially conscience lyrics. His first album was strictly rap, slamming street life and giving a realistic and truthful glimpse into the life in London Ghettos. Also more importantly, it made it clear there aren’t many differences between American Ghettos and English. On his second Album, Drew relied more on his Alternative Hip-Hop/Soul origins with The Defamation of Strickland Banks, which sold over five million copies. It showed his versatility, which has incredible range. Both drew considerable recognition, however the release of “Ill Manors” brought Plan B to a new level of success. Many newspapers in the UK such as its most prominent, Guardian, called it Britain’s greatest protest song ever. It went Number 1 and hasn’t left the top five in seven weeks. What has drawn massive criticism is the video. The lyrics blatantly pit poor against rich, slamming politicians, David Cameron the Prime Minister, the sacrificed welfare of the youth, newspapers who use derogatory language to describe people who live in council estates and the opportunities that aren’t given to youth who grow up in poverty. The word is Chav, and its very offensive to people in England, it’s a big stereotype. The origin of the word was from the late 1900s, when somebody would describe a young boy with a cigarette, chain, track jacket, didn’t listen to their parents and was always up to not good. For the most part, preparing to rob you if given the chance. A Council Estate, is the British variant of an housing project in America. These are all very valid points, but the Protest Rap song embraces the edge of a Hardcore thrasher song with the video, displaying real footage of violent and bloody fights, massive fires, riot police dashing towards masked protestors, images of youth carrying knives and throwing up gang signs, the destruction of cars and most of all it portrays the anger of a nearly forgotten group of a people with such realism that it scares you. For some it makes you want to close the computer and watch a PG movie, but for others it makes you want to put on a bandana and grab any tools you have to destroy things.
One line that sticks with anybody who hears the song:
“Oi! I said Oi! What you looking at, you little rich boy! We’re poor round here, run home and lock your door. Don’t come round here no more, ya could get robbed for real. Cause our manors Ill!”
This is the defiant chorus and the centerpiece for the song. Ben Drew fluidly shifts from one topic to the next, the Olympic games being focused on instead of more important things, parliament’s lack of effort, his animosity toward politicians, and closing down community centers are things that really seem to disturb Drew. He then switches the tone with a violent threat, or in my opinion a realistic threat. When he gets to his monologue, his message couldn’t possibly be clearer.
We’ve had it with you politicians
You bloody rich kids never listen
There’s no such thing as Broken Britain
We’re just bloody broke in Britain
What needs fixing is the system
Not shop windows down in Brixton
Riots on the Television
You can’t put us all in prison!
Guardian UK and many other newspapers, websites and media personalities have compared its impact through England, to the likes of the classic song “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. Most did argue that while Gaye’s soulful plea was created to offer healing and caring during a time when it was nonexistent, Ill Manors is a song about alienation, the psychology of the class system, Britain’s prejudice, that sounds just like a riot. It offers little hope, because he is realistic that we don’t live in a kind world.
The same goes for La Haine, it is a fairly neutral Movie, because it isn’t a call to go out and love each other or destroy things. It fits somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, what La Haine and Ill Manors have in common, is the idea that if you treat someone like a dog, they’ll act like a dog. The failings of the system have bred the so called trouble makers to become what they are. Once you realize that, seeing La Haine or hearing Ill Manors, becomes much more of an experience then a leisure activity.