Friday, March 6, 2009

Who's Laughing Now

I haven't been to the movies in a minute.

My wife loves going to the show, but I've never been a big fan. Lately, few movies capture my attention, and even when I am intrigued by a movie's premise, I typically get disappointed when I sit in the theater. The plots are too simplistic, or they do a horrible job of discussing or representing what I believe are the racial dynamics of the world.

Consquently, it should suprise no one that I haven't bothered to catch the latest Tyler Perry movie.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Perry recently released the latest movie in his "Madea" saga. This one involves Madea, who is really Perry in drag, going to jail. Of course, when the pistol-packing, foul-mouthed granny invades the big house, hijinks ensue. Sounds like fun, right?

Well, not to Courtland Milloy. Milloy, a columnist for the Washington Post, takes Perry and his latest movie to task in this piece.

I've never been a fan of Perry's work. His movies, while they may have potential, seem to slapped together with a minimum amount of work. (Kind of like some of my blogs.) And his televisions shows, well I would rather punch myself in the head for an hour than watch House of Payne or Meet The Browns... While wearing brass knuckles.

Yet, Perry is undeniably popular. His movies dominate the box office and, because of the small production costs, they are hugely profitable. It seems like his smiling face is on my television every five minutes extolling the benefits of his two TBS shows which he promises are "very funny." The man is a success, but according to Courtland Milloy, his success is built on explotation.

On one hand, I have to agree with Milloy. Perry traffics in every stereotype about black people, and black men in particular get a pretty raw deal from him. It's like he has a rule that only one man can be a "good man" in any of his movies, and that pretty much sucks. Plus, his portrayals of women, particularly his role as Madea, seem designed to make black women as two-dimensional as possible. Yet, despite all these problems, people love Perry.

Milloy tried to ask some movie viewers how they could enjoy movies that are so stupid and he got an interesting response. Several of the folks just said "Hey, it's entertainement, you're thinking too much."

You're thinking too much.

Sadly, that response did not surprise me. I've run across it many times myself. It seems many, MANY people spend a lot of their lives trying to entertain themselves with activities that don't require them to think. Who knew?

See, I like thinking. I've told y'all about my internal debates and arguments. But, I also like thinking in other stuff. When I'm playing video games (Anybody want to catch my on NBA 2K9 or GTAIV? My user name is Bub75 and I will kill you with a jumpshot or assault rifle.) I like think. When I'm playing basketball in real life, I'm always thinking. When I played football, I was constantly scheming for an advantage. In every aspect of my life, I'm constantly thinking about my next move, about my last move and about my present move.

I'm not overly ambitious and I'm not a schemer, but I do think I'm a thinker.

Consequently, it's hard for me to relate to people who turn off their brains to watch movies. After all, movies are supposed to entertain you. How can something entertain you if it constantly insults your intelligence? More importantly, how can something entertain you if it can't capture your interest? No matter what a movie is about, it needs to interest some part of my psyche and stupid movies just don't get that done.

But, I guess for some folks movies are an escape and that's it. I can understand that to a degree. I read a lot of science fiction and I know that books about magical worlds are mainly an escape for me. But, that doesn't mean I enjoy bad science fiction. Just the other day I stopped reading several books because they were poorly written drivel, even if they did meet my quota for dragons and spells.

Yet, some folks can take the smallest nuggests of goodness from movies, and that's enough for them. They might not call the movie a work of art, but they won't silently seethe and wish they could get their money back.

In addition, as a friend of mine pointed out, many black folks are starved for movies featuring black people in decent roles and will inhale anything. Perry has seen that need, and he's obliging their requests. While his movies are lacking, they still feature black people in a wider range of roles than anything the mainstream Hollywood machine cares to produce. So, in a way, you could blame white people for the problem of Tyler Perry. (Y'all knew I had to find a way to blame "whitey." I wouldn't be a Raving Black Lunatic if I didn't, now would I?"

However, the real question is what to do about the Perry phenomenon? There is clearly a demand for his product and as long as he is profiting from meeting that demand, what is his motivation to change? So what if some black folks are upset about his stereotypes, those folks aren't the ones making him money. Should we hold black artists like Tyler Perry to stiffer standards than their white counterparts, or should be let them slide and be content that somebody is saying something good about us?

What say you Lunatics?



Darth Whitey said...

I feel you Big Man, good post. I think George Lucas the Great did ok with black characters no? Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) in TESB and ROTJ, and Mace Windu (Sam Jackson) in the prequel trilogy.

The Matrix guys went above and beyond. Aside from making the main character and his woman whiteys, pretty much everyone of influence and command in his entourage is black.

I ain't down for dragons n wizards so I wouldn't know about that but as I recall from the LOTR trilogy there weren't too many black folks there :-)

LondonDiva said...

I'm a self confessed TP fan just search the tyler perry label on my blog and you'll see a fair few postings about the man himself. And movies as well as books, and music are interpreted differently through different eyes. During most of the TP movies I've been able to see a message, laugh and cry. Some have been good, some bad and some OK. Where was all the blacks n sterotypes uproar when we were clambering to the cinema to see the movies in the 90's that saw every black film pretty much centered around guns and gang violence. Set it off, boyz in the hood, dead presidents, menace to society, jason's lyric, new jack city, juice????...And the brothas are a lil peeved about the sterotypes portrayed in TP movies??? If the genders were reversed and I was a black man I'd be more pissed at the Singletons and Van Peebles than the Perry's and their portrayl of us in their films. But still why can't the good and the bad been shown on screen. There are good and bad black men in TP movies. Why 'brothas' are always on some tip to always be portrayed like they're golden is beyond me, when the reality of it is like in his films there are men that beat their women, cheat, abuse, absent fathers, but at least he's not afraid to show the ones taking care of their children alone, have a job and are just good men period trying to find a good woman. He's even portrayed some of the women as being straight up trifling too.

Are people going to be this hard on Lee Daniels when PUSH gets released? If it ever does.

I don't get it, what do black folks want? Seriously. I'm asking this question because I hear so many people slate TP with a quickness and a passion. So some don't like his movies, fair enough. What do they want to see TP do that would be deemed as acceptable to put on the big screen if they were to pitch something to him?

Mr. Noface said...

My sister got me hip to Tyler Perry's plays back in the day and I must say I enjoyed them. I like some of Perry's earlier films as well. As for the more recent films (like meet the Browns, A Family the Preys, or Madea Goes to Jail for example) I haven't had a chance to see them.

The thing with Perry movies that you have to understand is this; there are two types of portrayals in his movies. There are Caricatures like Madea, her brother, and others that have been transplanted to film from the plays. Then there are the characters played by actors and actresses like Angela Basset, Shemar Moore, Rick Fox, Blair Underwood, etc. who are more often than not serious portrayals with more than two dimensions. Its like the Caricatures played by Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall as opposed to the Characters played by James Earl Jones, Shari Headly, John Amos, Eriq La Salle (and yes Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall) in the movie Coming to America. Now maybe you are not a fan of that movie either, but I loved the movie despite (or in truth, because of) those Caricatures.

You know how there would be the stereotypical (magical, sassy, mysterious, sidekick, outrageous) Negro in films that would be their simply as plot devices in a story concerned mainly with white characters. This is a similar tactic only this time black Caricatures serve as the backdrop to a story involving black Characters. It’s not a bad movie device. The only reason I and probably you, have a problem with the device in predominantly white films is because the only roles that POC's fill in those movies are that of the Caricatures. This is not true of Perry's films with a predominantly Black cast.

Perry's projects are meant to convey a particular message which is stems from his Christian Faith (more so in his plays than in his movies) and a lot of people come really to see that message on the big screen so they don't trip too much about other things like whether the character of Madea is two dimensional or not. I believe that is why people enjoy Tyler Perry movies and why they do so well.

As for the TV shows, you’re correct sir. They are indeed painful to watch. It's like you'd have to set your tongue on fire and stick a rusty nail in your ear, simply to distract yourself from the agony that comes from watching those programs (dude really dropped the ball with those shows). Why are they still on the air??

I hope this helps.

LondonDiva said...

@ Mr No Face you're right, I see a TP film based on his faith, knowing the outcome will have me feeling good and I've come away with a little something after watching it compared to bloody fear after watching New Jack City or something like it circa 91/92.

I read that guy's article in the post, he reminds of those folks that want black folks to be seen and not heard and all act the same just to not give white folks anything to talk about. Anything outside of his comfort zone and he'll be quick to bring in a historical element about it's hurting, damaging and the joke is on us. He'll soften the blow though by praising TP for all he's done [to not sound like a total hater of course].

What gets me about that article [which i read after RBL's blog] is that I almost feel insulted BY HIM [not TP] like anyone who watches, laughs and is entertained by a TP film is somewhat low, lower, just doesn't get it or anything and pretty much a dumbass for finding it funny when we shouldn't be. I for one get a lil tired watching/listening to anything 'black' and then folks dissecting everything we do and going back to slavery/history and how it's going to affect us in the future.

RBL wrote a blog the other day about Clint Eastwood and us taking ourselves too seriously, and in this instance maybe we are and do. I couldn't give a flying 4 X about TP dressing up as a woman, It's not that serious to me or us as a people. Funny how he reeled off eddie & martin, but didn't wanna talk about Robin Williams. It's OK for the white man but a black man to do what he wants for entertainment purposes as a comedian is not right. That dude is too uppity for his own good.

Big Man said...

London Diva

Thanks for the passionate response.

I think it's cool if you really get something out of Tyler Perry and his movies interest you. I can say that on a surface level they are mildly entertaining and typically contain a few laugh lines, but often I don't feel like he's breaking new ground, or really taking the time to deliver quality messages. It's not that his movies are complete trash, they aren't. He often addresses relevant topics and understands some central truths about black folks. But, it feels like he crams WAY too much into each movie, and rarely fully develops characters and interesting plot points. It's like he can't concentrate on one or two things and explore all of the dimensions in those issues. he has to have 20 issues and he inevitably oversimplifies things.

As far as with men. I don't think men should be perfect. And I loved Menace to Society, Boyz in the Hood and New Jack City. Now, I thought there were way too many hood movies with the same premise, but those three had something to say and said it well. I think violence and sex have their place in movies, and I don't get upset when black men take part in them.

I get upset at what I feel like are illogical assaults on black people. I get tired of Perry having either totally evil brothers, or simpletons with hearts of gold. People are more complex than that, I expect my movies to reflect reality, not some ridiculous pseudo world.

Thanks again for commenting.

Shady_Grady said...

Tyler Perry movies seem silly to me but there are a lot of silly movies out there. He's entitled to go after the market that "gets" him the same way the producers of "American Pie" or "Knocked up" go after a certain demographic. I don't get Perry's fascination with cross dressing but again you see that in a lot of black movies. Different strokes for different folks.

The LOTR trilogy being all white didn't bother me because it was true to the source material. Tolkien was writing stories based on Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Scandinavian myths.

Lolo said...

I have similar opinions about Amy Tan and any movies based on her tripe but hey, at least Perry isn't part of the state curriculum on multicultural studies, like Tan is in Ca. True story.

However. I can appreciate how much and why his fans support him, maybe because I'm not part of his target audience. Shrug. Honestly, a homely man in a dress can be funny as hell. When I was girl, we used to giggle like loons at Flip Wilson.

I like a good escapist movie. Bad Boys II, Die Hard, Pooty Tang, Undercover Brother, The Fifth Element. These are all on my top hundred list.

What's a few of yours?

Big Man said...

That's a tough question.

I like the aforementioned movies and a few other classic comedies like Coming to America.

Strangley, two of my favorite movies are Gattica and Millions, two very different movies. I honestly don't watch movies that much period, whether at home or at the theater. I kinda prefer books.

Esquire said...

It's an interesting topic, but I'm not sure I can condemn people for just wanting to be entertained and not want to think that much.

I can't say I'm a Perry fan (I also don't think his stuff is all that funny), but I can definitely enjoy movies that are pretty mindless.

After dealing with a bunch of lawyers at work, keeping things going on the homefront, etc - I'm pretty much thinking and being challenged all week.

So, sometimes I just need a bit of an escape. I want to sit down, laugh for an hour or so and then walk out of the theater.

So I'm not sure if I would take it as far as that writer did and condemn the people for enjoying Perry's movies.

bigblksoul said...

TP movies = all of the Earnest movies in my book. Same soup...different bowl.


you get it you just dont like pop culture movies.

i dont like video games it's all good.

sometimes i crave louis and diz and sometimes i crave

top 40 70's bubble gum music.

it's all escape.

let's dig each other by our daily actions and not some teenage high school culture choices.

p.s. i am so full of shit , i judge mot*** fu***** every day but i am trying to become a better man.

Big Man said...


At least you're honest.


I am not Star Jones said...

There are so many movies to see with black characters where people can avoid the unsophisticated and corrupt stylings of Tyler Perry (in or out of drag) for some time. Here's a starter list:

Eve's Bayou
The Caveman's Valentine
Love & Basketball
To Sleep With Anger
Something New
Love Jones
The Glass Shield
Grand Canyon (it has a multiracial cast)
Mars Attacks (again a multiracial cast but three dimensional black family is featured)
Brother To Brother
Putney Swope

The movies are out there -- it's up to the people who want more to seek more.

Raving Black Lunatic