Movies: Clowning Their Way Off The Mean Streets

DAVID LACHAPELLE

Why would someone in full clown regalia wander--like a child into a war zone--through the streets of a toxic inner city? Is he on a quest for instant martyrdom? No. He's Tommy Johnson, an ex-drug dealer now known as Tommy the Hip-Hop Clown, and he's recruiting some of the best local talent of South Central Los Angeles to help create a frenetic, feel-good style of dance called clowning. Missionaries of optimism, they go about, one clowner says, "making smiles where there were no smiles, laughter where there was no laughter," and turning the meanest Los Angeles turf into what one proud...

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