Saturday, April 23, 2011

I'm Not A Hater I Just Think A Lot: On Tyler Perry And Spike Lee

This gurl has cracked. During an interview with Hip Hollywood, Tyler Perry played a Madea voice clip that said "I will punch the hell out of you, say something else!" and dedicated it to Spike Lee, who hasn't been shy about his criticism of Perry's films. Perry then went on to say that black people are the only ones who exhibit a crab mentality when dealing with their own, citing Langston Hughes' critique of Zora Neal Hurston. Watch below.



Italians didn't have a problem with The Sopranos? Don't tell that to the National Italian-American Foundation, who protested the show back in its heyday. "Our goal is to get 'The Sopranos' off the air," chairman Frank Guarini said in a 1999 New York Daily News article. "'The Sopranos' is a terrible stereotyping and unfair portrayal of Italian-American families."  And I guess the the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) missed that memo as well, since they called the show "an unreal picture of the Italian-American family," that was damaging to the self-image of Italian American children.

As for Jews protesting Seinfield? Why would they? Granted I've never been crazy about the show, but the few episodes I have seen contain nothing that could be deemed worthy of organized protests. What's really the issue is the fact that unlike the two aforementioned series, Meet The Browns and House Of Payne, are simply not funny or particularly creative. They are basically Perry's stage plays translated into a sitcom format, and without the option for improvisation or audience participation, they come across as excruiatingly dull.

Perry has countered claims that his work plays off stereotypes by explaining that characters like Madea, Mr. Brown and Joe are tools to draw people into his work so they can hear messages about faith, love and forgiveness. While they may have started out that way, what Madea, Mr. Brown and other characters have really become is a crutch, caricatures used as a smoke screen to distract the audience's attention from plotlines that are often trite, cliche and pedantic. And while I (and most people) have probably encountered my share of Madeas and Mr. Browns in real-life, showing the same one-dimesional portrayal over and over again implies artistic laziness on Tyler Perry's part.

The nearly dozen films he's made usually fall between entertaining/I'll get the DVD (Why Did I Get Married?, Madea Goes To Jail, Family That Preys) to cringe-inducing/Hell there's nothing else on TV/I'm at someone else's house and don't want to be rude territory (Meet The Browns, Diary Of A Mad Black Woman). He has yet to make his dramatic equivalent of  Do The Right Thing, Boyz N The Hood, X, or Rosewood. And on the comedy side, he's yet to produce a Hollywood Shuffle, Barbershop, Coming To America or Friday. Of course, Cube, Spike and Singleton and other directors/actors have all had their duds (She Hate Me, Beverly Hills Cop III, Are We Done Yet?), but none seem to take criticism quite as personally as Perry.

The themes of  Perry's movies, like his latest release Madea's Big Happy Family (which might as well be called Madea: Out On Parole, if the trailer is any indication) have worn thin and become predictable and formulaic. In nearly every film a dasmel in distress is saved by light-skinned white knight (complete with washboard abs), while God and Jesus get shouted out more than the word "cut!". Non-Christians are usually portrayed as selfish, unhappy or just plain evil, while the delivery of his message often has the sublety of a sledge hammer. Ambiguity, nuance and complexity are often dirty words in the Perry universe.

 Let's do a little comparison shall we? In Friday, when Craig's father discovers he has a gun, an admittedly dramatic circumstance (a father discovering his son owns a fiream and is in a potentially life-threatening situation) is handled in a naturalistic way that conveys emotion without going over the top.



Meanwhile in Diary Of A Mad Black Woman, when Charles tells Helen, his wife of 18 years, that he is leaving her and she has to leave his house, the melodrama is laid on as thick as molasses. Not only is it the night of their anniversary, he also shows up with his mistress in tow. While Helen's volatile reaction is understandable, the fact that Charles literally drags her out of the house makes the whole scene unbelievable. Not only does it go against Charles' refined, controlled persona (he might as well have been on street corner shouting "Bitch betta have my money!") it makes Helen's pain unintentionally hilarious.



Someone reading all of the above (and sorry if it took a minute--I'm not feeling particularly succinct today:), would probably feel compelled to tar me with the dreaded H word--a hater. Which is what I hate the most about this whole "feud" between Lee and Perry, because at the end of the day, Tyler is going to make the kind of films he wants and so will Spike. But why does someone have to be jealous of another person just because they don't like something? And why should we be silent in our dissent if the creator of a particular work happens to black? Wouldn't we then become the big black monolith--thinking the same, acting the same way, believing the same things--that racists, opportunistic politicians and movie executives assume we are? Women, latinos, asians, gays (remember the "too fem/it's unrealistic" debates when Noah's Arc debuted?) and other groups certainly don't have a problem questioning/critiquing media made by their own.

I'm all for black unity, but just because another black person made a movie or wrote a book or recorded a album doesn't mean I have to jump up and down and cheer for them like a two-year-old that just went potty for the first time. Supporting our own doesn't mean we should have to shut our brains off. Perhaps if Tyler Perry listened to the more constructive strains of criticism, the quality of his work might improve.

1 comment:

Prince Toddy English said...

In total agreement, again!
Tyler Perry, in my opinion, would be better served writing Soap Operas. His stories are completely one note, cliche, and more transparent than cellophane.
This is someone who takes no real pride in the craft of story telling.
Every single character in a Tyler Perry film is an extreme. The protagonist is always a paradigm of morality and virtue (and also the perpetual victim)and the antagonist is the complete and utter antithesis. Perry might as well name all of his villains SATAN and get it over with. They literally have no depth outside of being evil to the hapless victim.
Perry even does this with OTHER people's material (For Colored Girls is a prime example)!
I still think Madea is his excuse to do drag. As you stated it would be one thing if this character was maybe in one or two of his films but now she's a STAPLE. Since Perry has been filming I've seen ZERO artistic growth or development from him.
I feel like he could BETTER serve black film by producing films and allowing more talented artists to write, direct, and cast his movies.
Yes, I love beef cake just as much as the next queen but what in the hell made Shemar Moore or Boris Kodjoe memorable, other than the fact that they are HUNKS?
And I am right with you on Helen getting put out the house. That was so over the top that it was comedic ala Mommy Dearest.
ATLEAST Ms. Perry has stopped saying in interviews that he is waiting for God to send him the right woman.
Honey, the way she came up out of her wig in that tirade against Spike let me KNOW she gave up on the ghost with that whole pretending to be straight thing!
Grow up Tyra. It is called criticism. You are NOT above it. Spike is only saying what many of us, who take writing and character development seriously, have been saying for AGES.
And how DARE he compare himself to Zora Neale Hurston? Granted, I am not a fan (I don't like dialect literature)but she is legendary. You ma'am are a HACK.

Related Posts with Thumbnails