Darius James - Every racial stereotype about black people comes to boisterous, blistering life in this outrageous novel--a grand guignol comic book that draws from both racist kitsch and Afro- American high culture
Darius James, Negrophobia: An Urban Parable: A Novel, Citadel Press, 1992.
After Bubbles Brasil, a white teenager, is placed under a voodoo spell, she enters a world populated by every stereotype of black people she has ever imagined.
Jarring, outrageous images hurtle from nearly every page of this postmodern vivisection of the contemporary African American condition. From the subconscious of Bubbles Brazil, a white teenager smoking a joint in her bathtub, issues a dizzying onslaught of stereotypes, a surreal microcosm of American racism. Using the form of a screenplay, James evokes such characters as zombies, witch doctors, licorice men, disembodied organs, and iron lawn-jockeys, all in a frenzy of blood, filth, drugs and excrement. A huge cast of cultural icons also appears--from Rosa Parks to the Jackson Five, from Jimmy "JJ" Walker to Joe Louis, from Malcolm X to Aunt Jemima to Martin Luther King Jr. ("with bloodstained bullet holes in his shirt"). In a gag that typifies James's maniacal irony, the cryogenically mummified corpse of Walt Disney transforms King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech into a celebration of genocide. There is imagination and wicked humor in all of this, as well as some piercing insight. But the flow of images is so wild and relentless that it becomes numbing, and its impact is lost. The eschewal of traditional narrative makes the book so filmic that tired readers may deem it unsuited for the page, wishing instead for what would be a spectacular--if technically onerous--movie. - Publishers Weekly
"Sex-bomb blonde" Bubbles Brazil thinks, "You can never be too cool! " For Bubbles, being cool in an almost all-black school means tough posturing to conceal her constant fear: negrophobia. In this wild, nonstop phantasmagoria, she meets weird bogeymen like the Flaming Tar Babies, Flapjack Ninja Queens, Uncle H. Rap Remus, the Zombie Master, evil Buppets, Talking Dreads, and Fred Farrakhan MacMurray, the Flubberized Nubian. Negrophobia 's fantastic satire nicely counterpoints the gritty realism of Jess Mowry's Way Past Cool ( LJ 4/1/92), though both books deal with the fear behind racism. In style, theme, and tone, the work of Montreal-based performance artist James is somewhat reminiscent of Ishmael Reed or Amiri Baraka, but his dialog is snappier. The vibrant prose makes for lively reading. Highly recommended. - Jim Dwyer
Every racial stereotype about black people comes to boisterous, blistering life in this outrageous first novel--a grand guignol comic book that draws from both racist kitsch and Afro- American high culture. Written in the form of a screenplay, it's a self-described ``Rocky Horror Negro Show,'' a pop-schlock phantasmagoria that owes as much to William Burroughs as it does to S. Clay Wilson. Totally in-your-face, this sexually explicit, postmodern Amos and Andy show follows the strange adventures of Bubbles Brazil, a ``drug-addled'' blond bombshell who thinks of herself as ``the reigning queen supreme of the cover-girl wet dream.'' She's a rich kid who hates going to school with ``jigaboos'' since they've turned the high-school hallways into a Mad Max spectacle of sex, drugs, and violence. This punk Orphan Annie soon finds herself transported into a nightmare dreamscape, taken there through the voodoo of a demonic Aunt Jemima called ``the Maid.'' Along the way, she meets the ``cosmic Sambo,'' a Negro cyborg; the Licorice Men, a group of cartoon savages with grass skirts and bones through their noses; Uncle H. Rap Remus, with his laughable accent; Malcolm X playing Bojangles; and crack kids with Walter Keene eyes. This Alice in Negroland witnesses the revenge of the lawn jockeys against their white suburban owners; and sits through a strange film-within-the-film, a Disney version of Triumph of the Will, with Walt declared president for life. Meanwhile, African cannibals dream of America and endless welfare checks. And of course, all the men are super-humanly endowed. As if that weren't enough, James riffs through lots of gross-out stuff: snot, afterbirths, pus, intestines, and the like. There are patches of hilarious doggerel, and bursts of iconographic high jinks. James's raucous debut is by far the best novel to emerge from New York's Lower East Side literary scene. - Kirkus Reviews
"Negrophobia is a work of fiction, a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Negrohobia is a work of fiction. Every word is true. Fuck you. The author."
So begins Darius James' first novel, a cartoonish, surreal sendup of racial stereotypes and American culture. Like these prefacing remarks, the book is hard-hitting and hilarious.
The heroine of the novel is a "teen sex-bomb blond" named Bubbles Brazil. Bubbles is a bad girl, a former Rocky Horror Picture Show groupie who has become a die-hard peacenik ("I was no phony...l was bona fide. I sucked off Jerry Gracia."). But despite her commitment to hippiedom, Bubbles still has a lot of internalized racism knocking around in her drug-addled brain. So her Black maid, who is a sort of cross between Aunt Jemima and Medusa, puts a voodoo spell on Bubbies, giving her a mysterious case of 'negrophobia."
Bubble is plunged into a hallucinatory, gory and frequently pornographic world of outrageously sterotyped Black characters. James' jokes hurtle by at a furious pace: Bubbles travels to the Isle of the Unrestrained Negroes, negotiates the Cave of the Flaming Tar Babies and survives attacks from the Flapjack Ninja-kilers from Hell, some Negroid Vomitoids and a lascivious crew of Muppet B-Boys.
Negrohobia echoes Alice in Wonderland in places (one section is entitled "Down the Rabbitt's Rectum") and Dante's Inferno in others (Bubbles falls through the concentric underwater circles of the Harlem River which is populated with the floating corpses of pimps, numbers runners and crackheads). At times, the novel approaches the off-Kilter horror of those classic with its manic, madcap parade of freakish characters.
This intensity can be overwhelming. The novel is structured as a screenplay, and while this form is strikingly visual, it also makes for a jerky and disjointed narrative. At times, the story line seems about to collapse under the weight of all the explosive jokes and images. But what Negrohobia lacks in coherence it make up for in energy and inventiveness. James pulls no punches with his caricatures; both black and white concepts of race are adeptly, savagely satirized. He gets in especially sharp jabs at Black nationalism with his screeching Uncle H. Rap Remus, a preacher who leads his congregation in chanting, "All whyte people pitch over and die now!..Puke blood! Swell up! Turn purple!"
James presents white racism as equally laughable in a scene in which Walt Disney calls for the extermination of Blacks. Disney's gruesome speech combines echoes of Pinocchio, Martin Luther King Jr. and the KKK: "I wished upon a star--that one day wondrous shopping mall, beneath the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slave owners would dine on the sons of former salves, secure in the knowledge that their silverware was safe from theft."
James is a brave writer, and he pushes his stereotypes to grotesque limits. At an all-Black school, for example, "throngs of students congest the corridor smoking resinous Rasta spliffs, snorting smack from tiny, waxed-paper sacks; drinking pints of Wild Irish Rose; sucking tubes of crack; fighting with razors; firing pistols; dry-humping each other against lockers; hawking stolen goods; miscarrying half-formed fetuses; singing gospel; and wailing the blues."
In passages like these, he brilliantly exposes the absurdity of stereotyped notions of racial difference. In interviews, James has said that he wants to reclaim those negative images: "It's my belief that in order for racism not to have a real psychic effect, Black people who are victims of racism have to take back the imagery of racism and turn it on those who use it against them."
Whether or not you agree with the premise, James' book is a stunning enactment of that reclaiming task. he 'takes back" the images of race with a sometimes shocking enthusiasm. As the book continues, the scenes get more sickeningly violent, more graphically erotic, more ludicrous.
The avalanche of unsettling images is both revolting and, eventually, redemptive. Bubbies' case of negrophobia forces her to explore the underside of American culture; her trip through a hell of inhuman caricatures forces the reader to confront the ugly, distorted and hateful manner in which Blacks have traditionally been resented in this country.
By the end of the book, Bubbies has passed through a sort of looking glass of the her own, leaving behind an insane world where color contains the only meaning to emerge into a new landscape where it has none. No longer the "blond bomb," her face retains no vestige of race--it is a "mesh of shadows." It is a test of James' power and versatility that he manages to sustain this visionary moment as well as the earlier absurdity. With Negrohobia, he has produced an assured and devestatingly funny first novel. - Davids. Kurnick
I recently received a telephone call from the Los Angeles Times. I hardly know anyone in the United States. I live quietly in Miami with my wife and children.
"I have looked for you everywhere. . . . We would like you to write a review of 'Negrophobia' by Darius James."
"I don't speak English very well you know, although I can read it."
"You must read this book," the voice at the other end of the line answers. "I will send it to you right away."
Why me? Maybe because I am Haitian and Darius James refers constantly to voodoo in his book. Also, I have lived a long time in Montreal, where James currently lives. This, no doubt, gives him a necessary distance vis-a-vis American race relations. But most of all, I think it was because I have written a novel, "How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired," in which, like James, I analyzed the murky and ambiguous sexual relation tying the Negro to the white woman (at the heart of the whole business) in this surrealist America.All this should make James, a novelist from the same universe as myself, a writer of the image generation (he has, in fact, written for TV, film and video). I had the impression while sniffing around in the book (I usually spend two or three hours ferreting through a book before I begin to read it properly) that I knew this world of smells, colors and sensations. A certain deja vu.
I opened James' book only to topple into hell.
The book recounts the vicissitudes of Bubbles Brazil, a blond Lolita from a rich family who had to be placed in a detox center. Bubbles is a real cartoon, like the characters in the novels of Bret Easton Ellis. In fact, "Negrophobia" is the black version of "American Psycho." In her new life, with an awful black servant, Bubbles discovers the other America: that of the jigaboos. A large part of the book is a clinical description, done with maniacal precision, of the black world as seen by this pubescent, sexy, lively blond who seems as though she has walked off a page of Vogue magazine: a typical portrayal of that portion of white America that enters the ghetto only through fancy fashion magazines.
At this point, James' endless delirium about the untouchable Lolita begins. But Bubbles Brazil is also a pretty little monster of perversity, built-up desires, disgusts, shames. A vicious mix of (the young) Audrey Hepburn and Madonna, having spent her childhood in a Norman Rockwell painting and now living in a suburb of Los Angeles, perhaps Simi Valley.
This book also catalogues, with humor, nearly all the different cliches that whites and blacks share in the United States. Blacks, clearly, eat differently from whites, make love differently, speak differently (and here James excels in his exposition of levels of language) and, above all, think differently. Up to this point, I follow. I more or less know this way of talking. But James takes my breath away in his presentation of the universe. One says to oneself: Either this guy is literally crazy or I'm in the presence of a real writer. I think that both possibilities should be entertained.
Diving into James' swamp, I was charmed, horrified, exasperated by the excess of morbid details, dazzled by the sort of manic energy upholding the book from beginning to end, fascinated by the number of cultural winks to the reader scattered just about everywhere, and often annoyed by James' Russian-doll technique: a description of a living object but also a description of each component part making up the object. He uses a camera for the long shot and a microscope to describe the infinitely small. His electronic eye seizes everything, without, let us call it, human feeling. The description of the objects of daily life defines America.
As far as technique is concerned, James has been the student of horror films and grade-B science- fiction movies that appear on cable on off hours. In these movies full of monsters, of sordid clowns, of mad twists, of nightmarish situations that don't even succeed in scaring us, James sees the truth of America. Because in the United States, nothing is merely suggested. Everything is always under a mental lighting that is too harsh. Of this James is definitely aware. His goal is to show American mediocrity in all its horror, and, most especially, through horror.
As to essence, I see a definite connection to Dante's "Inferno." Even the concentric circles are there. The same descent. And as in Dante (the comparison stops here), one can find in hell the characters that inhabit James' delirium: J.F.K. side-by-side with Elvis, Lincoln's speech intertwined with that of Martin Luther King, Kipling, Elijah Muhammad, Norman Rockwell, Spike Lee, and the most horrible of all--the prince of darkness, the King of Kitsch, the Hitler of childhood--Walt Disney. - Dany Laferrierehttp://articles.latimes.com/1992-12-27/books/bk-4855_1_darius-james
In his performances, stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt sometimes eulogizes the open-mic comedy clubs of the 1980s, because it put upstart comics who believed that they were "on the edge" in their place. Oswalt mentions how drug addicts, derelicts, transients, and mentally ill would walk up to the microphone and spout their infirm, disturbed minds at the audience, to great applause.
"Wow, I guess I'm nowhere near the edge," Oswalt summarizes.
It is a shame that novels and screenplays do not have open-mic nights, because Darius James would put whole generations of novice writers to nauseating shame with his disgustingly humorous prose. Poet, humorist, and self-described African-American messiah Paul Beatty lists James among his exclusive list of figures that redeem modern comedy. I cringe with expectant wonder, curious about what James might have to say about Beatty in his own works.
In his "urban parable," Negrophobia, Darius James takes sociopathic aim at anything and everything Americans hold dear. Even if you live in the most isolated cave in Siberia and have never even met someone black, there will still be something in this caustic attack on racism for you to find distastefully, and delightfully, offensive. James even prefaces his screenplay, cross-dressing as a novel, with a quiz for readers to find if they are "Negrophobic" that will leave none unperturbed.
James introduces the reader to Bubbles Brazil, a bimbo as white as they come, with nothing on her mind but blonde hair and stereotypes about blacks. Her favorite snacks are pot, and chocolate figurines of Elijah Muhammad, grasping his genitals, adorned with suggestive flecks of white chocolate. Depending on your point of view, it either gets much better or much worse from here. If your sense of humor hasn't been chained and raped by politically correct propaganda, you will be in line for a hell of a satiric ride.
Bubbles lives in a hellish parody made of every fearful image and stereotype that White America can concoct about blacks and life in the ghetto. Even before Bubbles plunges into her drug-fueled, nightmarish journey into negrophobia, one wonders how much of her life is embellished by her racism. Bathroom ambushes by Aunt Jemima's Flapjack Ninja-Killer Queens from Hell are the sort of fevered flourishes that James paints in Donald Goines Senior High School (and maximum security prison).
After an attack by her maid - think Mammy, but with drugs, perversion, malice, and no token Oscar - Bubbles is rushed through tableaux of racism, containing one outrageous display of stereotypes and satire after another. There is no way to adequately describe the images and illusions that James conjures up to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. Some features in this show:
The zombie of Malcom X singing Timewarp
Driving a stake through Walt Disney's heart
Fallout shelters from exploding Negroes
Yes. All of that is true. I cannot make this up. I wish I could, but I cannot. This is all part of the bizarre brilliance that Darius James expresses in Negrophobia. Far beyond the gross out comedy and blind racial tropes that pollute television and cinema these days, this 1992 book contains subtle art hidden in scenes of a racist blonde vomiting worms all over the Church of H. Rap. Remus.
I reiterate once more, I cannot make this up.
By combining figures from pop culture, African-American history, and an arsenal of slurs, James creates a vile representation of how enmeshed racism and its distorted imagery of black culture have become with the nation's consciousness. Every scene, every nightmare, every imp, and every trip represents the dark and twisted nature of what race has become in America.
Do not let the vulgarity, to use the cleanest word possible, distract you. There is sex. There is violence. There are drugs. There is racism. There are disturbing images. Am I describing this book, or am I describing life? Both answers are correct. No matter how horrible or obscene, there is nothing in this book that is not found around us everyday if we actually open our eyes.
Ok, maybe there aren't 500-foot-tall cybernetic Negroes in real life, but that is beside the point.
Nevertheless, that is probably why this book throws off so many with its unashamed depictions of sex, drugs, violence, and discrimination: the nightmare is real. The issues in this fantastic screenplay/novel, whose special effects budget would have to be stupendous, if filmed, are real problems that must be faced in reality.
In fact, the truth of these issues is many times for brutal and horrific than any imagery James can conjure in his text. The fear and disgust that people will find in reaction to this book are instinctual defense mechanisms, trying to protect their lethargic consciences from being shocked into action. As much as this novel vigorously revolts against the same shit that African-Americans have been struggling with for so long, it also revolts against the sluggishness that the majority wraps around itself, like a filth-ridden blanket, to save itself from the responsibility of having to fix this shit.
There's not much more to say that Darius James doesn't say in his own...unique way.
Read Negrophobia, throw up, take a piss, then get out there and fix the damn world. - Andrew Dombalagian
The cover of Darius James's new novel, "Negrophobia" (Citadel Press), has made some black employees and associates of the publishing house cry racism.
The book by Mr. James, a black writer and performance artist, is a post-modern "Through the Looking Glass" adventure, a parody of racism in which a white teen-age girl accidentally casts a voodoo spell on herself, forcing her into a world where her most ingrained and bigoted stereotypes are realized.
The cover shows a white girl, scantily dressed. That's not what raised objections. Over her shoulder is a shadow of an oversize Sambo-like caricature that resembles racist art from the 1930's and 40's.
The art director who designed the cover, Steve Brower, and the author said they saw the picture as a visual representation of the novel's basic satirical line: what the teen-ager sees over her shoulder is not the shadow of a real man but of her deepest fears.
Thinking back to those childhood days in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I was often in the living room propped in front of our oversized black-and-white television set. Many film and television images that would be deemed as offensive today were still a part of our everyday world in post-civil rights America. While Martin Luther King might’ve gotten us a literal seat on the bus and at Woolworth’s lunch counter, that didn’t stop American icons Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben from staring at us from supermarket shelves, or the occasional Warner Bros. cartoon that featured kooky Africans, a hell-dwelling Sambo meeting with Satan on a Sunday morning, and jitterbugging darkies dancing through the streets of Harlem. With titles that included “Uncle Tom’s Bungalow” (1937), “Jungle Jitters” (1938) and “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” (1943), these shorts were shown before the feature films.
Village VoiceThe Politicization Of Jay-Z,
NegrophobiaThe System of Dante’s Hell
National LampoonSaturday Night Liverad more here
Darius James, That's Blaxploitation!: Roots of the Baadasssss 'Tude, St. Martin's Griffin, 1995.
Looks at the history of "blaxploitation" films, especially those featuring Melvin Van Peebles, Richard Roundtree, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, Pam Grier, and Tamara Dobson
James's own baadasssss 'tude hasn't backpedaled a bit since he gave the world a hotfoot in his first novel, Negrophobia, four years ago. Now, in step with the pop African American icons of the '70s he celebrates in this crass but wickedly funny survey/memoir, the author struts and jives his way through an energetic hodgepodge of interviews, reminiscences and original fiction. The offerings here range from the essay "The Blackman's Guide to White Women with the Amazing Power of Voodoo" through a high-toned interview with blaxploitation goddess Pam Grier to James's musings on the influence on his life of books by Iceberg Slim, author of Pimp. The numerous sidebars alone, which offer capsule reviews and/or plot summaries of scores of blaxploitation films from Shaft to Cleopatra Jones and The Black Gestapo, make this a classic of psychotronic scholarship. James's 'tude grates at times?for example, his insistence on calling whites "whytes"?but his apparent aim is to provoke more than denigrate, and he incorporates the work of several white artists, most prominently that of cartoonist Ralph Bakshi, into his raucous mix. Given its subject, this eclectic, iconoclastic, profusely illustrated work is just as it should be: a savvy, smirking toss of a black gauntlet at white middle-class values and culture. - Publishers Weekly
Of all the lovably outrefeatures of 1970s America currently being rediscovered, the "blaxploitation" film is one of the most deserving. Featuring funky soundtracks, pimp-suit fashions, and oodles of attitude, such flicks gave audiences fast action within simple plots involving cartoonish characters straight from some 1970s cultural garage sale. James proudly runs through those and other defining characteristics of the sassy film genre, in the process profiling modern black cinema pioneer Melvin Van Peebles; actor Richard Roundtree, portrayer of black superagent John Shaft; underrated actress Tamara Dobson (Cleopatra Jones); and the ultimate godmother, lubricious Pam Grier. Profusely illustrated, engagingly written, James' book would be worth having just as a checklist of the great black films of the funk decade, but it also features analyses of individual films and, among the interviewees, the interesting inclusion of white cartoonist Ralph Bakshi (Coonskin, Fritz the Cat, etc.), who draws a creative connection between his work and both George Herriman's comic strip, Krazy Kat, and the music of John Coltrane. Informative fun for the funky at heart. - Mike Tribby
The United States of Hoodoo—An Interview with Darius James
arius James and I first met in the late nineties in NYC. We encountered each other again a couple of years later when we were both living in Berlin, and developed a friendship. He helped me write a bio for my musical project, Boy from Brazil, and we collaborated on subcultural events in Berlin until he returned to the U.S. in 2007. After five years of sporadic correspondence, Darius came back to Germany in the summer of 2012 to present a documentary movie in which he stars called The United States of Hoodoo. The film premiered in Frankfurt and Berlin in late July, and I had the honor of playing a special Voodoo set at the after-party. Darius was kind enough to suggest to the editors of Sensitive Skin that I conduct the following interview—more honor, more death, more glory. We hung out at my Kreuzberg flat early this August and ran the voodoo down like we used to, only this time, a tape was running.
read it here