In a recent TV interview with Ed Gordon, Spike Lee blasted fellow director Tyler Perry, comparing his TV shows to Amos n’ Andy and other demeaning programs from less-enlightened times. Is that criticism far? You can judge for yourself by checking out this 3-Disc DVD containing episodes 61-80 of House of Payne.
Mr. Lee notwithstanding, the sitcom has met with both critical and popular acclaim, between winning four NAACP Image Awards (including best comedy series) and being the highest-rated cable sitcom of all time. So, is this just a case of sour grapes, or does Spike have a legitimate complaint?
Here's my take. Yes, some of the characters certainly behave in a buffoonish fashion which would be embarrassing if they were the only examples of African-Americans to be found on television. But we're not still in the Fifties when the handful of black faces included the likes of Beulah the maid, Rochester the chauffeur, Little Rascals Buckwheat and Stymie, and the aforementioned Amos and Andy. It's not even the Seventies when the insulting Good Times with its racist theme song suggested that black people are docile and happy about the host of woes visited upon those unfortunate enough to be stuck living in the projects.
’Keepin’ your head above water’ Making a wave when you can. Temporary lay offs' Good Times! Easy credit rip offs' Good Times! Scratchin’ and surviving’ Good Times! Hangin’ in a chow line’ Good Times! Ain't we lucky we got ’em’ Good Times!’
We've come a long way from such minstrel shows. Over the intervening years, we've not only had Bill Cosby, but witnessed a plethora of other African-American actors playing an array of respectable roles on TV and in film. Listen, when a black man has become president of the United States, it's obvious that kids now have a host of positive role models to emulate. So, I'd say it's okay to laugh with your children at Curtis Payne, so long as they understand not to mimic any of the antics of that jive character.