The Criteria for Art, Negro Art?
I believe the implied ideologies of “The Criteria for Negro Art” coined by W.E.B Du Bois is creditable in the present day and still in use. The “criteria” is a notion or question(s), which then becomes a tangible creation. However, its existence was birthed out of a need to express social cue observed by the Black Artist. Du Bois writes, “ – gradually the vista widens and you begin to see the world at your feet and the far horizon, then it is time to know precisely whither you are going and what you really want.”
The use of blatant institutional racism as a mechanism of control can be countered with the use of these guidelines to combat oppressive narratives. On the other hand, the action of constantly sticking to the guideline - can also exhaust the Black Artist. Meaning, when this ideology is strictly applied only by Black Artists as a requirement in making work the pieces are not only being read as representations of life. For example, the whimsicalness of love, or beauty or comradery or spirituality are not viewed as pure in understanding the work, it is critically analyzed and always viewed as purely didactic. The occurrence of creating something that will always be a teaching moment can inflict pressure and as stated before can be exhausting to the Black Artists. Nevertheless, teaching in the sense of embodying representations of Black community and culture to then reverses these mechanisms that bound Black minds elevates theses instances of pressure resulting in artistic gems and hopefully allude to a new found awareness by others. Which will then serve as a catalyst to deconstruct and combat white supremacy and white liberalist norms. De Bois goes on to state, “Thus it is the bounden duty of black America to begin this great work of the creation of Beauty of the preservation of beauty, of the realization of beauty, and we must use in this work all the methods that men have used before”. However because Black Art is only looked at as “Black contemporary Art”, it is held at a different standard in regards to art created by White Artists, Black Artists are boxed into a category for which their work is consumed.
With all that said, I wanted to analyze the Hip-Hop cult film “Pootie Tang” as it relates to “The Criteria for Negro Art”. Although, it was written, directed and produced by a mix panel of Black and White Artists, I believe it still follows the criteria Du Bois argues. I would disagree the protagonist “Pootie Tang” played by Lance Crouther in the comedic Blaxploitation, does not fit the ideology of the double consciousness because he stays true to himself through out the film even after conflict arises. However, his supporting characters those in his crew of cohorts do deal with the instance of double consciousness. This is portrayed through conversations they have with each other as well the way in which they think of themselves in relation to Pootie Tang. Because this comparison can be made, I feel this artwork can be viewed through the lens of “ The Criteria for Negro Art”. Pootie Tang is a charismatic lady magnet and mythical neighborhood celebrity that speaks a language no one understands but everyone responds to. His main concern is the overall betterment and future outcomes of the “Tipi Tais”. Crouther plays this character as a heroic figure, sent to combat the big business corporation (Lecter Corp.) that seeks to make fortunes off of misleading unfortunate inner-city children and their families. Pootie Tang whoops crimes behind with his “magic” belt that Daddy Tang leaves behind. I also believe that is also crucial to state that Pootie himself was reared with this very same belt, instilling positive moral. Whenever Pootie slipped up Daddy Tang was there to correct Pootie’s negative actions. Before his tragic death he (Daddy Tang) tells Pootie explicitly of the powers of the belt and what Pootie should avoid. Daddy Pootie states, “as long as you got right on your side you could whop anyone’s ass with just that belt.” He goes on to warn, “I know you love the ladies and lord knows the ladies love you. Don’t let the ladies come between you and the belt”. In following the standards Daddy Tang instills, Pootie Tang excels. He becomes a sort of legend making movies music and is still a staple in the hood. Pootie even gets into making PSA’s that are meant to guide the Tipi Tais from all things negative. These public service announcement can be looked at in the same way De Bois explains the necessity for propaganda to be apart of the “Criteria for Negro Art”. “Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other stripped and silent.”
Pootie does not strategies to be hero and informant to the “hood”, being a positive influence is his purpose. As a result of his efforts to save the kids, there is a reflection of his agency on the sales of negative goods in the hood. Pootie Tang’s efforts threaten Lecter Corp., which then becomes the plot of the film, get rid of Pootie.
Because Pootie is aware of his purpose when Lecter Corp. offers him to make money by doing commercials in support of their products he becomes offended. This metaphor of mechanisms that continue White supremacy and the need for constant control are tropes that are cycled through out the film. As a reaction he slaps the taste of Mr. Lecter's assistants mouth for the inquiry. De Bois stresses, a need for an equal playing field and a want to enjoy life as a man with equal opportunities in America where Black people are not simply capitalized on. Getting further into the storyline Pootie’s main damie’s speak on how great Pootie character is and how much of a driving force he is in the community. However, he is later stalked by Mr. Lecters temptress Eugenie and swindled into signing away his good character. She finds out about the magic of Pootie’s belt from Trucky and corners him in a supermarket. Eugenie’s character is a diabolical white she-devil who also is out to get power. Pootie forgets the warning his father tells him before he dies and falls into her clutches because his belt is useless against her. Upon hearing the news of Pootie’s cross over and demise because of trickery everyone turns their backs on Pootie except for Biggie Shorty and Trucky. The film goes on and Pootie leaves town to collect himself while the city runs amuck. Lecter Corp. takes full advantage of Pootie’s legacy and makes him the face of their Bad Burger fast food line with their own Black Faced Pootie stand-in as the mascot. All he stood for is being demolished and no one can understand how Pootie could go rouge for money. Biggie Shorty tries to save Pooties name and speaks on his behalf during his interviews exclaims, “If the world is gonna fall for this mess about my Pootie Tang… Then maybe the world don’t need my Pootie Tang.”
Nevertheless, after being set straight by a vision of his dear parents in the cornfield he saught refuge in. He’s father revealed there was no true magic in the belt and the magic was within Pootie. His mother reaffirmed Pootie’s place and purpose in the world. With this new gained insight he attempted to leave when Lecters minions Dirty Dee and Froggy appeared trying to further get rid of Pootie. They came into town taunting Pootie with his very own weapon in hand, not knowing its true magic was within in Pootie. Pootie ravished them and quickly heads back into town to defeat Lecter at a press conference. He gets there in a nick of time defeating Lecter and the suto- Pooties that were tricking the public. He reclaimed his spot and shreaded the contract that he was tricked into signing by Ireanie. De Bois states, “what is the use of your fighting and complaining do the great thing and the reward is there –many colored people are all too eager to follow this advice; especially those who are weary of the eternal struggle along the color line, who are afraid to fight and to whom the money of philanthropist and the alluring publicity are subtle and deadly bribes”. In the end Pootie is a people’s champ. He is only out for the good of the people and looks to combat discrimination of people who are looked at as lesser.
In my studies at CalArts, I’ve fallen into a discourse with myself as it relates to this notion of the “Criteria of Negro Art” in regards to critic classes and understanding my own work. There are many times when my White American colleagues get into a riff about the importance or meaning behind the reasons they are creating and why they are creating these things. In dissecting the works I always conclude with this question of, how do these pieces you make relate to you? They often have a difficulties speaking on their reasoning. There is also the instance where they stand by and exclaim that they feel as though they should not give reason for what they make. They rather have a conversation around the yearn to have total detachment from a work they have created, and get flustered at the idea that what they have now created is a representation of something they rather not discuss – because they have that privilege to make it and not discuss it. For me these critiques most important. They are self-reflexive of the authors creating them. They have no guidelines, no “criteria” to work by and no innate urgency or desire to give reason for the things the do decide to create. I conclude, “White artists themselves suffer from this narrowing of their field. They cry for freedom in dealing with Negroes because they have so little freedom in dealing with whites.”
Bois, W.E.B Du Criteria of Negro Art p. 752-759
Pootie Talk-The kids
Pootie Talk- Best friends
Pootie right hand man.
 Pootie admirer and later his love interest.