Not For Colored Men

Updated and posted by Old Posts Highlighter – Originally posted in 9/11/2010
After a long back and forth this weekend on facebook in regard to Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls, I felt compelled to write an article on my position on Tyler Perry’s work. It’s easy to sit in the bleachers and tell the coach how to run an offense, but when you take a seat on the bench and the game is moving at a completely different pace, you realize that coaching is a very difficult business. With this small cliche in mind, my feelings about Tyler Perry’s work are basic: He lacks any ability thus far to create a film that represents the depth of character of the Black men that I know. Well that may be somewhat harsh. He is obviously a talented person business wise, not a talented writer, actor, or director, but a very talented business person.I have not seen For Colored Girls, but as an English professor I have seen the original stageplay.
Just as I have read Beloved, The Color Purple, Etta Mae (Women of Brewsters Place), and The Street. Obviously there are many other stories that I have read which fit into the genre of Black Feminist Literature, but I am simply listing the first things that have entered into my mind. I have not seen this new version. The original, was powerful and needed in helping Black women find their voice beyond the Civil Rights discourse that was generated and controlled by Black men. The original also helped with the post Civil Rights discourse that saw Black men attempting to gain status and also saw Black women seeking to be accepted as a counterpart to White women who had burned bras and sought equal rights and pay in a White male dominated society. The works of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker as well as Ntozake established the voice of Black women that led to the work of Gloria Naylor, and today’s writers like Dawn Turner Trice and Diane McKinney-Whetstone.With this said, the voice of women was established and in Ntozake’s poem/play the narrative was already created. What has not really been generated is the well rounded Black male character. Why is it neccesary for a Black man who has been in the industry for over 10 years to continuously promote the story of the Black woman who needs to overcome? In this society I know more than enough men who were raised by a single mom. I realize that Black men have fallen short and that we are not marrying or supporting women at a rate comparable to other cultures, but I also realize that Black men are trying.
I have made this argument in discussing the negative effects of Hip-Hop: If a person listens to music that denegrates on a daily basis, he or she will learn to be disrespectful and learn to be abusive and ignorant. How does a person learn? Through repetition. This can not be shut off at any time. We learn when we hear things over and over. So if this is how we learn it becomes reasonable to think and understand that if the same images of Black men are conveyed then this will become what all people think of these men, in particular when the images are created by Blacks. Tyler Perry is a Black man, telling women’s stories. It works for him and it is profitable. However, in continuing to create images of Black men that are detrimental he is acting as a promoter of negative images and this has a harmful effect whether people want to recognize this or not. In our discussions this weekend we stated that Tyler creates some male characters that are positive, but the energy of the male characters that remains indelibly imprinted into our psyches are the male characters who are destructive forces. In Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?  it wasn’t the hard working, honest Tyler Perry character that we remember, it is the drunk Malik Yoba pouring alcohol on Janet Jackson. No one remembers that Malik Yoba had been fighting to save his marriage and wanted to remain with Janet although she had killed their child. No one realized that when he died that Janet had not only killed their child but had also killed Malik, but this is the crazy part after she has killed both men in her life, a symbolic cleansing she is rewarded with The Rock?
What does this say to both men and women? We can go through every film and although women often find happiness in the end, we are basically introduced to flat, not very well rounded male characters. We are given very in shape, oiled up placeholders. Which in a way is making men into the items that men actually make women into on a daily basis, but when is enough, enuf?
After ten years, the two books/works of literature that Tyler Perry chose to create were both created by women and both dealt with abuse and dysfunctional relationships. My goal here is to explain why I can’t support this film. I think you get why I feel this way. But I can’t list problems without giving solutions. Most people don’t realize that there are other books out there to tackle. Important works of fiction which could begin a process of shaping the way Blacks are perceived by everyone, especially us. The primary point of reference for most people who have been saying that Tyler Perry is doing work that is important all tend to say the same thing to offer a counter argument to the fact that he is creating negative images while attempting to create feel good or serious works of art. Everyone keeps saying that someone should write a book so he can turn that into a film. Well there are books out there in Black Literature that should be turned into film. These books are not about abuse or negative drama that stereotypes us. So here are my list of books that Tyler Perry can consider and they are all bestsellers, well almost all of them:
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man – A narrative about a man who becomes everyman which is really a commentary on how people actually see Black men in this society; without anonymity.
Michael Datcher’s Raising Fences: A Black Man’s Love Story – A bio of a brother who overcomes adversity and struggle to become a successful writer.
Tanarive Due’s The Living Blood, My Soul to Keep (African Immortals series) series – before Twilight became a big hit, Sister Due actually created a narrative about a group of Blacks who have lived for an eternity and it’s a love story.
Octavia Butler‘s The Parable Series (Parable of the Sower and Talents) – People who read and enjoyed The Road, will love this. The Road was, as far as I’m concerned, was a straight jack of Butler’s books about a not too distant future where a girl forms a new society/religion that helps to move society back to civilization. Well I guess The Road was not directly influenced, but let’s say that The Parable Series is a mixture of The Road and The Book of Eli.
Christopher D. Burns’ Archie’s Psalm – What kind of writer would I be if I didn’t recommend any of my work? A coming of age story that is basically Stand By Me meets The Sandlot. I could be more descriptive, but no favortism here.
The Pact – Three brothers from New Jersey become doctors, nuff said.
Jean Toomer’s Cane – A disjointed narrative that allows a road weary traveler to analyze the various cultures in the South, while also maintaining a journal to a lover.
Amiri Baraka’s Transbluesency: The Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995) – What better story is there than showing a Black man who was a part of the Beat Poets who becomes enlightened and begins a movement towards new Negritude and becomes an outspoken critic of society and actually lives.
Robert Hayden Those Winter Sundays from Collected Poems– is actually a poem, but it speaks to the core of how Black men struggle with learning to love their fathers.
Saul Williams The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop – Also poetry, but I’d like to see the story of how the rules of Hip-Hop were discovered in a subway system in NYC. I guess this is a guilty favorite but hell it would allow another Saul Williams movie and he killed it in SLAM.
I think you get the picture here. There are a number of amazing short stories by both men and women that could have been tackled and should be. Is it Tyler Perry’s responsibility to do this? Yes it is. Why? Because we all realize by now that in Hollywood only one Black person is allowed to be prominent at a time. Tyler Perry has the ear of Hollywood due to his ability to generate sales, he now has a duty to create a new narrative that promotes the whole spectrum of our culture, not just the damaged women, church going folk, well oiled men and healed souls. I know we all like to think that a person should be able to do what they want, but Black people don’t have the wiggle room of other cultures. We are seen in a particular way by everyone and if our most successful people don’t generate media that allows for the promotion of well rounded characters then it’s just not going to happen. I’ll end with this: I have been waiting on the next Love Jones, The Wood, The Best Man, type film for over ten years, so Tyler listen to me and get me a movie that makes me feel like I felt when I watched P.S. I Love You with my wife. Can you do that?