I want to see Tyler Perry’s, For Colored Girls. I want to see a Tyler Perry movie, and it makes me feel all weird on my snooty intellectual insides. I’m actually considering paying money that I should be using on far more important things—like gasoline—to go see a Tyler Perry movie in theaters instead of waiting a few months and handing Redbox a dollar I probably wouldn’t miss. And when it comes to Tyler Perry, I usually don’t even bother to do that.
Yes, I’m one of those black snobs who thinks Madea plays are on the “Chitlin Circuit.” I have found numerous flaws with the three movies written and/or directed by Perry that I have seen, and I was on Team Lee during the infamous feud between Perry and filmmaker Spike Lee, in which Lee called Perry’s films examples of coonery and bafoonery.
Yes, I’ve seen only three of his movies, and I’ve never seen an episode of the television shows he’s produced, and I’ve never gone to a play he’s written. I think Perry’s work, to date and from what I’ve seen, has been formulaic, predictable and horribly unsatisfying to anyone who prefers subtext to slapstick, or who is not or has never been a lonely Christian black woman waiting for fine, light-skinned, muscular Christian perfection to sweep her off her feet into her happily ever after.
But if ever given the chance, I think I would work for the man. See, I’ve never hated Perry for reaching out to a neglected audience—that’s what a smart entrepreneur does—or for using a formula, as most of Hollywood, which is full of bad movies, does. I’ve even loved that he keeps black actors employed, and I haven’t seen the anti-feminist portrayals of women that other bloggers have seen. I’ve simply been annoyed that work so flawed received such popular acclaim and that … well … that his most celebrated characters would also be the most celebrated characters at a minstrel show. (My people, my people! Please set your standards higher!)
I considered many arguments during Perry v. Lee. Lee was taught at elitist schools, probably by white professors, and it isn’t fair to evaluate a black film by white standards. But Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society pass both the film school quality test and the what-black-audiences-like test, so why can’t Tyler Perry? Probably because the first few attempts at filmmaking from just about everyone who calls himself a director but who doesn’t have any previous credentials or training sucks at his first attempts at making a movie, while the aforementioned films were thesis projects.
You could argue that there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, and that Perry entertains well. He entertains as a man dressed in drag and carrying a pistol, but hey, that’s funny. I’m not sure you can call it drag, though; full queen regalia tends to be pretty elegant, and Madea … not so much.
You could argue that all that education and 20-plus years as a wealthy filmmaker have left Lee out of touch with the people who first supported him and with the audience that now gives Perry number one box office weekends. But when is it not advantageous to personal and societal growth to evaluate the images that are fed to you? To acknowledge what you grew up around, validate some of it, but desire to see improvement in other areas? To acknowledge that artists, especially those with money and powerful voice, have a social responsibility? To demand a range of characters that show the cast’s full acting capabilities? What’s wrong with uppity negroes like me wanting something that begs critical analysis and discussions at locally owned coffee shops after the film?
Answer: nothing. And the For Colored Girls trailer, which is bursting with talent from far under-utilized actresses, indicates this movie may produce those conversations. It may still be a script that’s not driven by events. There may be several minutes of dialogue that could have been shown with a well-crafted montage instead of spoken. There could be holes in the script and superfluous characters. There may be some scenes that have no explanation whatsoever, and characters may take some inexplicable actions or make some decisions not preceded by anything that would lead the audience to understand why the character did such a thing. The shots could be boring, the locations could be stagnant, and the bigness of the “big screen” could be under utilized. Again.
All the flaws that no one will notice, except for those weird people who go to film school, may be there. But I am willing to take a chance on it. Not because I’m looking for something to criticize. Not because I feel the need to support all things black. Obviously not because I’m impressed with Perry’s previous efforts. But because I noticed Perry’s skills as a director, and a little bit as a screenwriter, getting progressively better in the few works of his that I have seen. And really because the trailer looks good. And the official movie poster is beautiful. And because I’m hoping that this will be one of those films, one of those works of art, that deserves my support because it has met my high standards.
See, it’s not just the hours of dissecting movies in order to obtain a certificate in screenwriting talking. It’s that I think that thing we have for accepting mediocrity and calling it black, saying, “It’s just us,” or, “You know how we do,” is beneath what we deserve. In entertainment, in business, and in everything else.