Friday, September 18, 2009

Guest Post on Tyler Perry and For Colored Girls...


Now I have held my tongue on Tyler Perry because I was truly afraid that once I started, I wouldn't stop. While I admire his hustle and the fact that he consistently finds a way to make chicken salad out of chicken sh!t; I need him to back away from the stereotypical characters he tends to portray. I need him to get writers (not himself) that will make the plots three-dimensional and not so predictable that five minutes in I can tell you how it will end. I need him to stop portraying bougie females as if they are what's wrong with the race these days. I need him get behind the scenes, write the checks and give someone fresh a shot. And I need him to let Madea go. The image of the gun-toting, tell-it-straight Big Momma is worn and cold. Basically, I need Tyler Perry to Just. Do. Better. Now if you have surmised that I'm not a huge fan, I remain conflicted. I love anyone who puts black actors and writers to work. I just wish he would take the next steps.

For those in BougieLand unfamiliar with the play (the Author refers to it as a choreopoem), it is a brilliant work studying the lives of black women as represented by a color. Earlier this year, CNN profiled Ntozake Shange, the author and the interview gives you an idea of what it's all about. It is one of rite of passage things that women of color hold close to their hearts. When word came out that Tyler Perry bought the films rights... well - all hell broke loose. If you think I don't like Mr. Perry, take a gander at the post below by Thembi Ford. Enjoy!

Re-posted from the The Black Snob (guest post) By Thembi Ford

Getting his hot little hands on Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play “For Colored Girls who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf," was coup of the year for Tyler Perry. Not only will he produce and direct the upcoming film version, the King of Coonery will also write the adaptation of what may be the most important work about black female identity ever. Ask any black woman, especially the artsy/moody/self-aware type, about “For Colored Girls…” and she will respond with a wistful look and fond memories.

I was Lady in Blue in a high school production and have told more than one sorry dude “insteada being sorry all the time, try being yourself,” quoting the Lady In Red (but playing it off like I came up with it on my own). This is classic material and now we can expect the intentionally stripped-down aesthetic of Shange’s work to be replaced by style choices that only a closeted gay man could make. Even worse, Perry has announced that he’d like to cast the likes of Oprah, Halle Berry, and Beyoncé to tackle the play’s issues, which include love, rape, abortion, and relationships. Beyoncé??? Please pass the Xanax.

How did we come to such a low point in black entertainment? Sadly, money always talks. Did you know that Tyler Perry’s films have grossed about $319 Million in seven years, while Spike Lee’s have grossed $372 million in twenty-three years? When you account for the inclusion of rather mainstream flicks like Inside Man ($88 mil) in Lee’s canon, Tyler Perry is really in black folks pockets at an alarming speed. We’re going to see his movies in droves and I just cannot figure out why. Maybe it’s easy for whole church buses to go see a Perry flick after Sunday service, maybe we’re just happy to see black folks on-screen no matter what they do, or maybe we don’t have the sense of a Billy goat when it comes to choosing meaningful entertainment – I just don’t know. But the end result is the proliferation of a parade of empty, stereotypical characters, humor so dry it could sop up Jermaine Jackson’s hairdo, and the persistent depiction of black women whose lives are not complete unless they can find and hold onto a good black man. When we begged for greater representation on-screen, this is not what we had in mind.

Can I go back to Beyoncé and the meds I’ll need to watch her act again, especially in such a groundbreaking piece? It’s hard for me to even write about it because my thumbs have spontaneously become paralyzed into the DOWN position. First of all, I haven’t forgotten Beyoncé notifying the world that she’s not black, she’s Creole, which is the exact OPPOSITE of the “For Colored Girls...” message. Let’s also not forget that Beyoncé CANNOT act. I’ve given her too many chances to demonstrate that she can, and after watching her try to squeeze out tears while trying not to look directly into the camera I’ve concluded that the only role she’d excel in is an adaptation of Pinocchio – on camera, the girl looks like she’s made of wood. Her clumsy speech pattern is the stuff that gets folks flunked out of Julliard. There’s something about how her tongue sits in her mouth – its too big, its too wide, its too strong, it won’t fit. Why is this happening, again? Greed. Not just greed for money, but for recognition.

Whether or not Beyoncé ends up in the film, Perry has a special talent for creating the illusion that otherwise credible black actors don’t have enough talent for mystery dinner theater, so I have to consider anything he controls creatively a lost cause. However, as executive producer in a joint venture with Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry sat in the audience for Precious, a film highly praised by critics at the Sundance Film Festival (you may have heard the buzz about excellent performances from Mariah Carey and Mo’Nique). As the audience ooh’d and ahh’d at how creatively stunning it was, Perry scratched his chin and said “Hmmm. I want me some of this.” So now what should be a landmark moment in black female cinema directed by any of the renown black female directors out there – Kasi Lemmon (Eve’s Bayou), Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees), Debbie Allen (no explanation needed) or Nzinga Stewart (who was originally slated to direct the film) - is instead sure to fall flat under Perry’s control.

What’s saddest of all to me is that, as much as we can expect Perry to butcher Shange’s work, won’t so many of us feel obligated to see it anyway? Will we bite our tongues and watch, even if just for the sake of criticism and cultural commentary? Or will we consider ourselves lucky to absorb the prose and poetry of “For Colored Girls…” on the big screen for the first time? Should we patronize questionable black films just because they’re intended for us or should we boycott what we suspect is garbage? This is a persistent quandary that those of us interested in thoughtful black entertainment continue to face. Just what is a black woman to do with such a mess? When I ask myself these questions I’m reminded of Shange’s Lady in Green: “bein’ alive, bein’ a woman, and being colored is a metaphysical dilemma/ I haven’t yet conquered.” After thirty-four years at least that much still rings true.

Thembi Ford is the author of the blog What Would Thembi Do?

23 comments:

JasonL said...

I was okay with the first few films but he has taken the character too far. The TV shows are really not the best representation of black people on TV. My wife is furious about his buying For Colored Girls and is positive he will ruin its great legacy. Let's hope he brings in a consulting writer (or ten) and does the right thing for the screenplay adaptation

1ChanceOnly said...

Please say the Beyonce rumor isn't true? I like Bey but she is no Angela Bassett. And Thembi is right, I will have to go out see it out of respect for the legacy of the play.

The Raven said...

Chele - Thanks for this. I checked out Thembi's site - another female blogger to love! About TP - I'm going to go optimistic. Some of his films have been unwatchable trash wasting great talent (the family that preys, daddy's little girls) and others have been okay but still underutilizing talent (angry black woman, why did I get married). I want to hope that he hears some of the criticism and at last has the sense not to ruin this poem which is a treasure.

The Raven said...

Chele - Thanks for this. I checked out Thembi's site - another female blogger to love! About TP - I'm going to go optimistic. Some of his films have been unwatchable trash wasting great talent (the family that preys, daddy's little girls) and others have been okay but still underutilizing talent (angry black woman, why did I get married). I want to hope that he hears some of the criticism and at last has the sense not to ruin this poem which is a treasure.

BB Waite said...

I thought I liked Tyler Perry until I sat down and watched those TV shows. Wow. That is not good TV. He takes every single "black stereotype" and amplifies it. He is a brilliant capitalist but limited in the scope of his writing. Like OneChele says: Just.Do.Better!!!

DatDudeinCali said...

You going in on TP?! Brave, he's like Black Jesus these days. Didn't realize he was outselling Spike Lee. says something. Seem to be two camps on Tyler, folks either really stan for him or they wanna run him outta town. My 7 year old daughter loves Madea, my 32 year old sister thinks he's one degree from step and fetch it. 

Guest said...

I love Tyler Perry movies, we don't have anyone else representing right now. I've heard all the arguments about weak plots and stereotyping but he's an entertainer and I am entertained.

Kiki said...

Me too! I like him and don't get what the big deal is. How bad a job can he do? And why all the Bey-Bey hate? She does okay. 

Jane knows Jane said...

Hmm, Thembi is not feeling TP.

Bailey Quincy said...

I've been keeping up with some of the Tyler Perry blog battles and haven't weighed in but I think Tyler Perry is symptomatic of what's wrong within the community. Is this the best we can do? Is this the level of entertainment we're willing to settle for? Sure, admire him for coming up but now he is completely playing us. Hollywood doesn't care what kind of crap he puts out as long as it makes money. And the more of us that support the nonsense he makes, the more of it he'll make. Really, now that he's in a position of power, he can affect change and make a difference but he's just doing the same ole same ole. As you can tell, I'm not a fan.

Bailey Quincy said...

And furthermore, the thought of him with his hands on For Colored Girls makes me quite queasy.

Mike said...

Lots of sisters hating on TP, I gotta wonder what beneath it

OneChele said...

The thing is that he has proven he knows how to do one type of film, he is not a proven commodity with a film that could be as significant as the Color Purple. It's hard to mind-mend Madea and Celie... 

SBChiTownChick said...

So conflicted about this cat. One hand - black dollars, black actors, hurray for blackness. Other hand - sad plots, same old characters, big man in drag. 

Guest said...

Halle Berry is undeniable beautiful.  But she can't act (Oscar notwithstanding).  Beyonce is entertainer of the millenium, no doubt.  But I haven't forgotten, she can't act.  Halle and Beyonce are not the only two black actresses in town.   Taraji B. Henson?  Viola Davis?  Angela Basset (duh)?  If he's going to make a film of this fabulous piece of art, stack it with TALENT.  Maybe then the film will have a chance to survive being TP'd.

bcopher said...

Ohhh Thembi's fingers must've been burning while typing out this piece. Scared of you girl! Wow.
Mr. Perry is so full of himself and has obviously been gased up by the likes of Ms. Winfrey to the point where you can't tell him that he isn't God's gift to film.
His movies and tv shows set us back so many years. Yet people see them because black people are in them. Do you also go see Snakes on the Plane?
When people stop supporting this trash, better will come.  I, for one, will let the memory of For Colored Girls ring in my heart and not taint it by Mr. Perry's "rendition".
And Beyonce? Are you serious?! No one wants to see her model walk her way through a parking lot let a movie. SMH!

bcopher said...

I'm also entertained by watching crackheads walking down the street. That doesn't make it ok. Also, when someone with as much power and money at Mr. Perry are basically the black community's only voice to the rest of the world, we have a big problem.

oregonsistah said...

lol...love this comment "also entertained by watching crackheads" but wouldn't want to be one and I look at them with pity and know they need help...I boycotted this last movie...The Madea goes to jail was so offensive..."he had Rudy from the cosby playing a drug addict crack whore who was raped by her father, a puerto rican pimp, gang raped by a football team and almost raped by a white preacher that was supposed to help her"...and the successful black attorney had to be a liar/cheat/sending people down the river; the black attorney who wanted to tell on her cheated on his LSAT...a long list....He has all of these great black actors in these substandard roles who have proven themselves playing this mess...

oregonsistah said...

I can think of a couple of actresses that come to mind that would be great (minus Oprah)  Nia Long, Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan; the young lady that played in sugar hill and girl six; the young lady that played Jamie Fox mom in Ray (where is she?); Keri Washington...Vanessa Williams (both of them); Vanessa Bell Calloway; Robin Givens....

and...I am not going to watch Precious either....can't take it anymore....another stereotype...

oregonsistah said...

BnB; love your blog, another one I can love and appreciate

OneChele said...

Welcome! and thanks!

Ms.ME said...

Im willing to bet my plane tickets to a cruise, you're a black person. SMH. So am I. I bet you don't like your self, probaly dislike or cant forgive a parent, aunt, uncle or a sibling. Remember God is the final Judge.

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