One of the greatest phrases I’ve learned in graduate school is “not being bound by the text.” Essentially, the term serves as a euphemism –and excuse–for not reading the assignment while simultaneously validating whatever jargon-soaked comment(s) one might offer during class discussion, because the folks who read have had their thinking narrowed by the words one was supposed to read. I am not bound by Tyler Perry’s cinematic rendering of For Colored Girls.
Early projections indicate that For Colored Girls will finish third in the box office race for the weekend of Nov. 5. I am not one of the people who helped the film earn an estimated $22 million. As a postscript to last week’s blog, I stated without a hint of equivocation that I had no intention of paying for a ticket to see Perry’s latest movie. Since the only color that counts is green, I understood purchasing a ticket as an act that would be interpreted as one of support for Tyler Perry and his work. How else can we adequately explain Perry’s role as director of such a project when nothing in his oeuvre even remotely suggests that he has the capacity to execute Ntozake Shange’s phenomenal work with a modicum of respect? Moreover, movie revenues are not reported with asterisks indicating which dollars came from folks who saw the film in question to (negatively) critique it. No scathing blog or movie review can counteract the $9.75 + snacks one spent to see Tyler Perry’s latest cinematic disaster effort. I’ll put my recession dollars in someone else’s pocket.
I’ve said my fair share about Tyler Perry and the damaging images of black women he forwards. Despite the somewhat humorous entry I wrote over a year ago about what we might expect from Perry’s film, the idea of actually seeing the result of him taking charge of a text that centers on the lives of eight black women is more frightening than the idea of Phaedra Parks and Dwight Eubanks planning my graduation party (rhinestones and waltzes, anyone?). So, I’ve dodged movie trailers and reviews. Still, I hear rumors of Perry’s continued war on black women. This time through botched abortions in alleys (in 2010!?) and men on the down low because their women won’t let them be men. iCANT. Even without a ticket stub from his latest flick, I offer that Tyler Perry understands neither poetry nor choreopoems and the messages therein. Perry has skated on the thin ice of “black people just wanted to be represented as something other than pimps and hoes” ice long enough. If I must choose between whores and Madea, I choose the former–or nothing at all. I’ve cheered for enough black people on Jeopardy to earn that right.
Besides, Tyler Perry does not care about black people (George Bush). Or at least regards them as a monolithic group of white Jesus loving sycophants who are okay with a little domestic violence if a well-shaped light skinned dude comes to save the previously insubordinate mahogany damsel. Those of us who aren’t fans of his yet see his movies anyway are lumped into that group when the studios start counting the box office returns. How many of his fans would still flock to him with such enthusiasm if there were better, entertaining, well executed alternatives? How many black women would support Perry if we could create a convincing critique offering the argument that Tyler Perry perhaps secretly, subconsciously hates and blames his mother for the abuse he experienced as a child and works that shit out in his films? I’m no psychologist, but just as I think Chris Rock’s Good Hair was essentially his way at getting back at all the black girls who called him ashy back in high school, hearing Perry speak of his abuse on The Oprah Winfrey Show just reified my belief that writing, though helpful, is often an inadequate form of therapy and that supplemental help is almost always needed. Otherwise, Perry will continue he keeps working out his issues with his mama while simultaneously butchering black life.
Of the above, I can only speculate. What is factually correct about Tyler Perry, however, is that he is not good for (black) Hollywood. His monopoly on black cinematic entertainment means that other black filmmakers with different perspectives are continually silenced and marginalized. If you recall, Nzingha Stewart is the one who initially brought the project to Lion’s Gate, but Perry refused to finance the project if he wasn’t granted directorial control. Now, the 21st century’s The Color Purple is smeared with corked fingerprints–and mostly because we pay to see the films. Perry has made so much money that, for black actresses–and really good ones, mind you–he’s the only gig in town. Think about it. Alfre Woodard was in a Tyler Perry movie. Alfre Woodard! I thought about making a list of black actresses who had resisted being in his films. But not everybody is Angela Bassett, so I decided not to do it. Besides, folks gotta eat. And I love black women too much. Way more than Tyler Perry ever could.