John H Posted November 20, 2010 Report Share Posted November 20, 2010 By now the crowd of people slamming Tyler Perry’s movies and television programs as minstrel shows could fill a large theater. One critic of his film version of FOR COLORED GIRLS called him ‘the king of coonery’. These people are, of course, wrong. Historically, minstrel shows flourished from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century. They were, for the most part, the products of white showmen using white performers in black face and were directed, overwhelmingly, at white audiences. Their function was to justify cradle to grave segregation, sanctified in law and enforced by violence, by presenting blacks as shiftless dimwits and vulgar brutes, properly kept on society’s margins because they were incapable of meeting the simplest demands of responsible citizenship. Similarly, Stepin Fetchit, Willie Best, and Mantan Moreland’s simple-minded, lazy‘coons’ of Hollywood films of the 1930's and 40's were directed primarily at white audiences. Perry’s audience is black. His performers are black, and he is black. Given his core audience of working class, church going blacks, his shows, obviously, do not serve as a cover or justification for segregation, nor are people paying good money to see themselves mocked. No one, black or white, has to like Perry, but enough already! He’s not putting on minstrel shows. As is indicated in my recent book FACES IN THE MIRROR: OSCAR MICHEAUX AND SPIKE LEE, there were black minstrels like Williams and Walker, who performed in black face. But they played before white audiences, thereby tragically compromising with and reinforcing the racism that denied them and other black performers the opportunity to show who they really were. By contrast, some of Perry’s films have provided a number of black artists (Kimberly Elise, Kerry Washington, Loretta Devine) with the opportunity to display the full range of their talents. Perry is not beyond criticism, but the criticism ought to bear some relation to reality. Whatever his faults he is not a modern minstrel show impresario. JohnH Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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