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John H

For Colored Girls

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-----Pity poor Tyler Perry!

-----I know he’s fabulously rich–but pity him anyway—he get’s no respect

-----The language used to attack his film version of FOR COLORED GIRLS is harsh: “Utter failure...”, “suffocating melodrama...”, “...calamitous...”, “...train wreck of a movie...” are a few of the milder comments. His adaptation of the Ntozake Shange play is deemed to have “...wrung the beauty and truth out of the original in almost every possible way...”, and he is accused of indulging “...his worst instincts for melodrama...”. In addition, he is alleged to be “tone deaf...” to the “passion and courage...” of the original work. (Actually two critics accuse him of being tone deaf.).

-----But there is a peculiar condescension in some of the criticism from black critics, reflective perhaps of class differences. One critic wondered why Perry had gained popularity in the black community, speculating that “Maybe it’s easy for whole church buses to go see a Perry flick after Sunday service.” But suggests, the critic continued, that “...we don’t have the sense of a billy goat when it comes to choosing meaningful entertainment.” Another critic observed that “working class and or church-going Black folks...” were drawn to Perry’s “simplistic” plays to fill a void in their lives.

-----The roots of this condescension are implicit in one critics identification of the audience for Shange’s play in contrast, by implication, to the audience for Perry’s work, “Ask any black female, especially the artsy/moody/self aware type about For Colored Girls and she will respond with a wistful look and fond memories.”

-----It’s the ‘artsy/moody/self aware’ part that hints at a view of the prols as a wee bit crude and lacking in sensitivity.

-----In a radio interview in connection with my recently published book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE I was asked about Tyler Perry and my response was this: If his core church-going, working class black audience loves him, who am I to knock their choice or offer excuses for why they make that choice. In any event I liked Why Did I Get Married, Too and loved the For Colored Girls movie.

Johnh

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Interesting. With his formulaic plots and emblematic characters, would you consider Tyler Perry a latter day Oscar Micheaux?

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John H great post and welcome! I'm still laughing at the quote “...wrung the beauty and truth out of the original in almost every possible way...”

The "peculiar condescension" you refer to is evident in every aspect of our culture. However I think the "hate" is mis-directed at Tyler, his work and the people who love it so much.

The issue is multifaceted but can be, in my mind, summed up as follows:

I truly believe the level of education, and literacy has adversely impacted not only our ability to produce great work but our ability to consume or even recognize it!

What little remaining "high brow" music, literature, film that is produced today is given such dismal support (read: purchased), that it can't survive on its own merit, and is left to eek out an exisitence on the largess of universities, and a decreasing number of not-for-profits.

This is not solely a Black thing; it is cultural. Pee-Wee Herman, the Addams family and everything Disney is on Broadway, television has been all but taken over by "Reality TV", and Jazz is a dying art form taken over by teenagers rhyming over samples of music produced by real musicians a generation before. Even books like the Coldest Winter Ever (all due respective to Sista Soulja) are being called great literature.

Tyler's success (all due respect to him too) is a symptom of a much larger problem.

While the mention of your book was subtle (appreciate you not posting just a flagrant commercial), I'll take the liberty of providing more information about your book.

Faces in the Mirror: Oscar Micheaux & Spike Lee

by John R. Howard

http://aalbc.it/facesin

513j81wybxL.jpg

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Interesting. With his formulaic plots and emblematic characters, would you consider Tyler Perry a latter day Oscar Micheaux?

Interesting question. I would say this: Micheaux's film makiing career went through several phases. Two of his first three films, WITHIN OUR GATES (1919) and SYMBOL OF THE UNCONSQUERED (1920)were daring, striking and original. BODY AND SOUL (1925) is as fine a silent film as one will find anywhere. But mamy of his films, particularly during the 1930's, did have formulaic plots and emblematic characters: for esample, THE GIRL FROM CHICAGO (1932),TEMPTATION (1936) , UNDERWORLD (1937). I do not say this in condemnation of him. He survived under brutally difficult circumstances longer than any other 'race film' maker. He worked in a rigidly segregated American in which Hollywood would not have hired him for any behind the camera job, except pushing a broom. That said, there are some significant simalarities between Micheaux and Tyler Perry. Micheaux was, in effect, his own studio. He wrote, directed, and distributed his his own films over much of his career. During the 1920's he was hailed in the black community as 'the great and only.' Perry, working in a very different America, has also become, in effect, his own studio. Interestingly, he has gained a degree of economic autonomy than Spike Lee ever had insofar as he is not dependent on Hollywood financing for his films. What he lacks, thus far, is Lee's artistic vision or the creative insight that Micheaux brought to the first three films named above. But, FOR COLORED GIRLS indicates that he might be on his way there. Johnh

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John H great post and welcome! I'm still laughing at the quote “...wrung the beauty and truth out of the original in almost every possible way...”

The "peculiar condescension" you refer to is evident in every aspect of our culture. However I think the "hate" is mis-directed at Tyler, his work and the people who love it so much.

The issue is multifaceted but can be, in my mind, summed up as follows:

I truly believe the level of education, and literacy has adversely impacted not only our ability to produce great work but our ability to consume or even recognize it!

What little remaining "high brow" music, literature, film that is produced today is given such dismal support (read: purchased), that it can't survive on its own merit, and is left to eek out an exisitence on the largess of universities, and a decreasing number of not-for-profits.

This is not solely a Black thing; it is cultural. Pee-Wee Herman, the Addams family and everything Disney is on Broadway, television has been all but taken over by "Reality TV", and Jazz is a dying art form taken over by teenagers rhyming over samples of music produced by real musicians a generation before. Even books like the Coldest Winter Ever (all due respective to Sista Soulja) are being called great literature.

Tyler's success (all due respect to him too) is a symptom of a much larger problem.

While the mention of your book was subtle (appreciate you not posting just a flagrant commercial), I'll take the liberty of providing more information about your book.

Faces in the Mirror: Oscar Micheaux & Spike Lee

by John R. Howard

http://aalbc.it/facesin

513j81wybxL.jpg

Troy:

Would I be correct in saying that your major point is that Tyler Perry's popularity reflects a decline in literacy and cultural sophistication in American society as a whole, white and black, in recent years? If so, I would agree that there has been slippage. When I began teaching at the college level many years ago most students had at least some awareness of the major American writers (Hemingway, Faulkner, Richard Wright, later, John Updike and Toni Morrison). Now fewer and fewer do. As a consequence of teaching film courses I'm aware that the wit and sophistication found in many older films is harder to find in many contemporary films, but I am also aware of how the creativity of a film maker can evolve over time. The Oscar Micheaux who made BODY AND SOUL was a much better film maker than the Oscar Micheaux who made THE HOMESTEADER. Bringing a choreo/poem stage-work like FOR COLORED GIRLS was extremely difficult to do well. Perry has not done it perfectly, but what he did put on the screen reflected seriousness and an understanding of Shange's masterpiece. He has grown as a film maker and, hopefully, will continue to grow.

Johnh

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That is exactly what I'm saying John. Your point about awareness of the "Classics" is unfortunately echoed by educators all over the country.

Tyler's potential is limitless. As you mentioned Tyler owns the means of production -- and that is a very big deal. He has the ability to produce films that no one else can or will. For Colored Girls is just one example.

He is essentially the lone voice when it comes to making films with predominately Black cast telling "Black" stories.

As a result, Tyler Perry he is going to be subject to far more criticism that a majority film maker because his films mean so much to our community.

And of course this is a difficult role for any person. Tyler has to produce films that are both commercially viable, and that tell our stories, all within the confines of his ability.

As his ability and resources improve, so should his product. Indeed if he gives other people opportunities to avail themselves of his resources, with a modicum of consciousness, who knows what great work will come out of Atlanta in the near future.

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Tyler's potential is limitless.

(right about the time folks say this about a Negro he takes a big fall.

Perry is just another filmmaker. If he gets too big or too black for his britches he will be where all the other Great Black Hopes wind up. The chopping block.

Couldn't be too soon for my money.

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