photo credit: Mikey aka DaSkinnyBlackMan
Every Sunday I attempt to make an escape away from the realities of this world. Therefore every week I make a run for the movies. Nothing is more comforting than hot popcorn, butter finger bites, and a large container of half diet coke and half regular cherry coke. This week as I was in line preparing to buy my ticket, I notice a large amount of Black women in line and leaving the theater. Being a regular at the local theatre I know the trends and come to the conclusion a Black film must be showing.
As I look to see what is playing above on the posting, I see that Tyler Perry’s new movie, I Can Do Bad All by Myself has been released. The Internet Data Database notes that “Madea (Perry) delivers three young adults who tried to rob her home to their aunt (Henson), a hard-living nightclub singer who doesn’t want the responsibility of parenting the trio. Can Madea’s influence, coupled with the arrival a handsome, industrious new tenant (Rodriguez), help April turn a corner in her life?” For some reason my happy zin feeling that over takes me when I enter a theatre disappears while at the same time a sense of anger begins to boil to the top.
Now before you throw every counter argument and the kitchen sink at me, I ask you to first take a moment and understand my perspective as a Black man born and raised in these lands where we oppress and control while at the same time praising “the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.” First, I am very much aligned with the intended letter to Tyler Perry posted on NPR by Jamilah Lemieux. The letter reads:
September 11, 2009
Dear Mr. Perry,
I appreciate your commitment to giving black folks jobs in front of and behind the camera. Your films are known for their humor, and they also have positive messages about self-worth, love and respect. For all of that, I thank you.
However, my feelings about your work are conflicted. The images of black people we see in your movies and two TV shows, Meet The Browns and House Of Payne, are not always fair. Now, you are the only person who seems to be able to get black shows on TV. But both your shows are marked by old stereotypes of buffoonish, emasculated black men and crass, sassy black women. I’d like to support your work, I really would — because I’d like to see people who look like me on TV. But I can’t let advertisers and networks think that these stereotypes are acceptable.
Your most famous character, Medea, is a trash-talking, pistol-waving grandmother played by none other than you. Through her, the country has laughed at one of the most important members of the black community: Mother Dear, the beloved matriarch. . . . Mr. Perry, you are in a position now where, if you were willing, you could completely revolutionize the world of black film. You could singlehandedly develop the next crop of Tyler Perrys, Spike Lees and Julie Dashes if you want to. You have built an empire on a foundation of love and Christianity, Mr. Perry, but that is also mired with the worst black pathologies and stereotypes. I beg of you, stop dismissing the critics as haters and realize that black people need new stories and new storytellers.
Now we know that Mr. Perry has been criticized before for the content of his movies and television shows. He has said previously that Perry’s not immune to the flak. He once said, “Over the years, I have learned to ignore these people and keep doing what I feel that I am being led to do.” I would like to remind Mr. Perry, that President Bush too felt he was being led as well while in office. Now I believe Mr. Perry has a right to creative freedom. Every artist does in my mind.
But when one takes the national spotlight, they are responsible for the messages and images they are portraying to the world. I know he has employs mainly Black staff and does a lot of charity work. But I also personally know drug dealers who I grew up with donating cloths and toys during Christmas. We as a country suffered as people, especially Black people suffer for your work. I have seen his last two movies, but refused to see this particular film. The same feeling I left with after viewing them is the same emotion I felt in my heart after seeing How Stella Got her Groove Back, Waiting to Exhale, and The Color Purple. I can recall when I was dragged to see Waiting to Exhale by my mother the feeling of shame. The author, Terry McMillan has made a living in the fictional stereotyping of Black males for the world to see and rejoice within her depictions. This can be easily detracted from the beginning of “Waiting to Exhale.” The main character, Savannah begins to describe her family dynamics:
“Mama, who thinks she is an expert on everything, hasn’t had a whole man in her seventeen years, and if I knew where my daddy was, I’d probably kill him for making her such a bitter woman…One of my brothers is in prison for doing some stupid shit, passing counterfeit money…”
Seen here, Black males are seen as romantically absent, convicts, and unintelligent. Within the following section, a simple plotted stereotypical reference to a fear of Black male sexually is exhibited.
“‘I’m on my way, baby’” he said, and jabbed me worse than he had the first time…He went to work, and during this whole ordeal, not once did her kiss me…all of a sudden his face became monstrous and contorted, and the next thing I know, he started growling like a bear…he was gritting his teeth and his eyes looked like red lasers. “Grrrrrrrrrrr” he said again, and I thought his penis was going to come out through my chest. I was about to push him off, but I was scared, and he did it again, even louder and more piercing this time. “Grrrrrrrrrrr, he screeched, and then, thank God, collapsed. I lay there still as I possibly could, because I was terrified. I didn’t know what I was sleeping with: a man or a beast.”
Like McMillan, Tyler’s formula that targets Black women, strums the lonely heartstrings nationwide while at the same time standing on the necks of the true image of Black males. Others in the music industry follow this formula as well. When describing us to the world, Destiny’s Child (song-Solider) notes:
We like them boys that be in them ‘lacs leaning, leaning
Open they mouth they grill gleaming (gleaming)
Candy paint keep that wheel clean and (clean and)
They always be talking that country slang we like….
I love how he keep my body screaming (screaming)
A rude boy that’s good to me with street credibility…
If his status ain’t hood
I ain’t checking for him
Better be street if he looking at me
I need a soldier
That ain’t scared to stand up for me
Known to carry big things if you know what I mean
We are much more than this. I am much more than this. I keep asking myself, when will our true story going to be told. And if it is one day, who will care to listen for their minds will be truly polluted with the negative images planted beforehand
Terence D. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., M.S.W.