Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tyler Perry: A Bane to Black Cinema...

People who know me personally have sometimes heard me rip apart Tyler Perry as a filmmaker. From the moment he first stepped forward as that rip-off of exactly what people hated about Eddie Murphy, Madea, to the moment when somebody other than Tyler Perry thought Tyler Perry was a good actor and decided to give him a starring role in Alex Cross, absolutely nothing Tyler Perry had creative control over has come across to me as a good movie. In fact, quite the opposite, he always came off to me as a very bad filmmaker.

This in itself is very hard to say because outside of Perry's lack of filmmaking skill, the man comes across as a cool dude when he's not mad about Spike Lee telling him he sucks at making movies. And you cannot say he does not come from a good place: He started with gospel plays and as such, his filmmaking theme seems to largely be based on teaching good morals to people and injecting the right message with every film he makes, despite the obvious technical errors present, such as the soap opera dripping atmosphere being mistaken for an adequate substitute of direct plotlines and the unemotive acting that he captures on a run-of-the-mill cinematographic set-up. So, let's drop the technique, because that would be overkill and no movie is perfect.

I was asked, for the tenth million time, by some friends who actually like Tyler Perry why I hate Tyler Perry? So, I had to sit down and think of a final argument to put this question towards me to rest.
To start this, I have to introduce a different filmmaker... One many film aficianados are already familiar with and may be new to the layman who reads this movie blog (Odin help you if you read this blog thinking my opinion is the end-all, be-all, though)...
D.W. Griffith.

Honestly, D.W. Griffith is considered the grandfather of modern cinema (though there are a few filmmakers before him to have done what he's before him) with his then-innovative use of parallel editing, set design and forms of story-telling. But if you mention him to an African-American historian of cinema, or maybe even an member of the NAACP, you may see his/her eyes roll at Griffith's mention. And there's a pretty good reason why...

The Birth of a Nation is a 3 hour movie Griffith notoriously made in 1915 that made significant history in cinema and is remembered as the first film epic. It was also racist as fuck (and boring, depending on who you ask) as it depicted a fictional account of the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, presenting them as the men who brought order back to America after the Emancipation was put into effect and the Civil War was brought to an end.
It romanticizes the shit out of this story by making its main focus not the initiation of what is probably the most despicable hate group in existence save for the Nazis (say what you will about Westboro Baptist Church, they are idiots and their views are despicable, but at least they never murdered anyone), but the relationship between two families in the middle of the Civil War - sort of like how Titanic was about DiCaprio and Winslet getting it and the Titanic was just the setting. The movie is three-hours because we follow the story of these families, rather than just making a big deal about a tragic tier in American History.
Of course, this is not relevant yet to Perry yet because in spite of The Birth of a Nation's disgusting ethics, it is actually an effective form of storytelling and, if it wasn't overtly racist as it simply was, it might have been a greater movie than it already is considered.

No, the reason why this is relevant to Perry is because Griffith didn't know what he was doing was harmful to the perceptions of a race. He actually thought what he was doing and saying was good. He was naive. He even had two "good" black characters in The Birth of a Nation, but they are caricatures of heinous house slave stereotypes, the kind of black character Uncle Ruckus would claim to be a fine example of what a negro should be. In addition, once he found out what he said in this movie was absolutely wrong (though it may be he was just sorry that it ruined his career), he tried to apologize with the (similarly-racist for its use of yellowface and Asian stereotyping) romantic tale of Broken Blossoms.
He didn't mean wrong to the world, he just brought it ignorantly.

Also, nobody makes Idris Elba out to be a bitch...
That shit is unforgivable.

That's exactly my problem with Tyler Perry. Say what you will about his morals: They are for the most part fine. He is focused on the good things about the world he speaks to that he doesn't notice how he presents the bad things in it. He uses not just stereotypical but also cliched aspects of his African-American characters, always presenting them as privy to domestic violence, urban crime and things are black and white with characters. When a character is evil, he will make them out to be evil, but those characters will almost always be black and almost always be acting urban and thuggish without any answer to it. The one good thing to come out well from this is the development of the lead character (in writing at least, the acting is usually still bad) - most notably the developmental empowerment of Perry's female characters (y'know the ones that aren't Perry in a fat suit), such as in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. But sometimes, even those backfire from independence to absolute incompetence or dehumanizing aspects like in Madea Goes to Jail It's possibly is a familiar manner in how he gets his audience, but it also is the sort of apologetic stereotyping that makes movies like Crash and The Blind Side just as horribly unwatchable for me, despite their good intentions.

In addition, his presentation of filmmaking and his success leads to an unfair monopoly on black cinema that keeps some better Afro American filmmakers from getting enough attention among a predominantly white (and predominantly male) business - Steve McQueen, Robert Townsend, Ernest Dickerson, John Singleton, Neil LaBute, Lee Daniels, Antoine Fuqua are only among a few black directors who are shied away from because most people consider Tyler Perry the final coming of black cinema... Not to mention one of the most provocative filmmakers of all time, Spike Lee, though he's somewhat fighting that off by making the most out of whatever projects he can produce, even with some shoddy ones like Miracle at St. Anna.

In the end, the spotlight put on Tyler Perry's presentation of African Americans is not that very much different from D.W. Griffith's and I can't forgive that. The only difference is Griffith was kind of a good filmmaker anyway.

And can handle criticism without telling me to go to Hell.

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