Too Hard on Ourselves
When Tyler Perry announced that he was taking a break from producing his hit movies, I’m pretty sure many in the Black community let out a sigh of relief.
After all, it seemed that some of his critics held him responsible for every “negative” image of Black life seen on the big screen.
Although his movies made millions and he constantly employed Black talent in front of and behind the camera, Perry was criticized as if his films were really taking the Black community backwards instead of forward.
In Hollywood, everything is cyclical. After Perry’s success with gospel-oriented films, Hollywood began distributing similar films by T.D. Jakes and David E. Talbert.
Now that the gospel-themed urban dramas have lost popularity (Perry’s latest film “The Single Mom’s Club” has only grossed $15.8 million as of April 11 according to imdb.com), a non-stop wave of slave dramas have taken their place on the movie screen.
Almost immediately after the success of “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave,” Hollywood announced the next group of slave films like “The Good Lord Bird” starring Jaden Smith, “Belle” and “The Retrieval,” which opens today.
And almost simultaneously, many in the Black community voiced their displeasure with so many slave films being produced.
Although we as a community should be concerned about how we are seen in the media, we must not forget that these productions, whether on the big or small screen, are forms of art and not necessarily meant to be taken so seriously.
Many people have criticized Hollywood for intentionally portraying the Black community in a negative light, but I believe Hollywood is indifferent to the way Black Americans are portrayed. Their only concern is making money and once something makes money they will try to copy that formula until the formula no longer works.
The movie industry is no different than the music industry. When musicians want to take chances with their art and break new ground, record label executives often advise them to emulate what’s on the radio and what is proven to be a hit.
In the film industry, hit Black movies usually have been a part of a successful cycle from the Blaxploitation era of the 1970s to the hood classics of the 1990s to the gospel-themed films of the 2000s. Now we are in the slave era. Unfortunately, many in the Black community have complained no matter what era we were in.
Furthermore, when Bill Cosby tried to portray an affluent Black family on “The Cosby Show,” many in our community complained that they did not know any Black doctors or lawyers.
Now Black television has entered the era of dramatic serial programs with the success of “Being Mary Jane,” “The Haves and The Have Nots” and “Scandal.”
These shows have developed cult-like followings on social media, but many have criticized the fact that a successful Black woman like Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) has to be promiscuous and sleep with married men.
Unfortunately, the shows would be no good without drama or conflict and if everything was positive, many of its fans would probably not watch it.
Television shows and movies are usually our escape from reality. If we wanted to just see reality we would not need televisions or movie theaters.
Movies and television shows are not direct reflections of our personal lives; they are simply forms of art and forms of entertainment.
Furthermore, the entertainment business is just like any other business, which is controlled by simple economics: supply and demand.
Celebrities like Nick Cannon have stated that they do not want to see any slave movies, but want to see us portrayed as queens and kings more often.
I totally agree with his sentiment.
Nevertheless, slavery, strong matriarchs like Madea and the grim realities of the ghetto are all a part of our culture and we should not run from reality. There just needs to be balance. We should not just see all slave movies or all hood movies.
The problem with my aforementioned opinion is that Hollywood only sees dollar signs, not the totality of our culture. So when Perry films fail at the box office, Hollywood is just going to look for the next big cycle of hit movies. And it just so happens that the current cycle involves the most painful era in the world’s history.
As a community, Black Americans need to realize that although slavery was obviously a painful era in our history, we should not be so hard on our entertainers who choose to make these films.
They are simply supplying a demand, and when the demand shifts, the tone of Black films will switch as well.