I hate Tyler Perry. For the longest time, all I had was secondhand information, but I recently did something that few white college-age males ever do: I watched a Tyler Perry movie. Not surprisingly, it sucked. More than that, it had a message that is only positive when viewed in a very particular light. Daddy’s Little Girls is a film about a single black father who falls in love with a black lawyer and, with the help of his black Christian community, wins custody of his daughters from their cartoonishly evil black mother and rids the community of her (black) drug-dealing boyfriend. Noticing a trend here? There’s nothing wrong with making movies about and for black people, but Tyler Perry doesn’t seem to have even asked himself how white people fit into his worldview. When the female lead talks about her difficulties finding a date, she says that it’s very hard to find a successful, single black businessman. Is it just me, or is there an unnecessary word in that sentence? Is chocolate merely her favorite flavor, or is she convinced that only someone with a similar cultural background could truly understand her? Something tells me it’s the latter, but the man she ends up falling in love with is a mechanic whose blue-collar background contrasts sharply with her well-to-do upbringing and Ivy League education. Oh, I forgot: he’s black. Well, that explains everything.
From what I can gather, pretty much every Tyler Perry movie is like this: no matter what your problems are, they can all be solved by embracing Christian values, marrying someone of the opposite gender, having children, and being black. So it’s a little odd that Perry himself, despite being over 40, has never married and has no children. I’m not going to speculate about his sexuality (although I’m hard-pressed to name any straight writers as given to female-centric melodrama and cross-dressing as he is), but it’s hard not to talk about the man who makes himself the center of his own empire. In addition to putting his name above the title of everything he writes, directs, or produces, he has named his production company after himself, and on the DVD I watched, every ad except one was for something with his name on it. Is he trying to take over the world? Truth be told, I’m kind of scared. The only people he seems to have any use for are straight, black, and Christian, and I’m none of those. Many have remarked upon Perry’s business savvy at catering to an underserved demographic, but I think his success has more to do with making that demographic feel like they’re the only one that matters.
For further proof, you need look no further than the title characters in Daddy’s Little Girls. The tagline reads, “She needs a good man. He wants a smart woman. There are only three things standing in the way”, but that really isn’t true. The girls are not three things; they’re one. By the end of the film, I couldn’t even remember their names, let alone any of their personality traits. They love their daddy, and he loves them. There, that’s their relationship. Had the film focused on them getting to know their father’s new girlfriend and the difficulties of building a life with someone from a radically different economic background, this film could have been a charmer. Instead, those issues are largely glossed over in favor of the larger social points that Perry wants to make. I hate to break it to him, but if the black American community wants to make progress, it’s going to need allies. Malcolm X had a massive epiphany when he realized that not all white people are devils—what will it take for Tyler Perry to understand that we matter as well? Even Spike Lee remembered to present us with a white character who was sympathetic to the plight of people of color. And you, Mr. Perry, are no Spike Lee.
It saddens me that those are the only two successful black filmmakers that most people can name. Remember John Singleton, who wrote and directed the wonderful Boyz N the Hood, and last I checked was churning out shitty action movies, presumably because he can’t get anything more ambitious off the ground? It’s sad but true that despite decades of progress in this area, racism is still a prevalent force in Hollywood. Don’t even get me started on the lack of good Asian-American cinema (Justin Lin, I am so sorry.) But no matter what your goal is, you cannot achieve it on your own. Spike Lee, as angry and occasionally ham-fisted as he can be, gets that. That, along with his extraordinary talent, is what makes him one of the great living American filmmakers and Tyler Perry no more than a hack. And with that, I shift this discussion to the only topic that makes any sense: George Lucas.
You might have heard about Lucas’ new movie Red Tails, which he dubs “one of the first all-black action movies ever made”. Setting aside the questionable business practice of making that into a selling point, it amazes me that he isn’t getting more credit for breaking new ground. The folks at Red Letter Media—the website responsible for those phenomenal takedowns of the Star Wars prequels—even mocked Lucas for being out-of-touch. Really? When was the last time you saw an action movie with a black lead who wasn’t Will Smith? Blaxploitation movies don’t count, because they haven’t been around since the 70s, and were generally low-budget anyway. And black cop/white cop movies don’t count either because they’re so cliché by now that it’s almost offensive. Give up? Yeah, I thought you would. Most movies about black people focus on slavery or the Civil Rights Movement, and while Red Tails no doubt has plenty of speeches about the importance of seeing past skin color, that’s not ostensibly what it’s about. I applaud Mr. Lucas for what he has done here, and while I doubt I’ll see the film due to its poisonous reviews, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that anyone who can’t see what a good thing Mr. Lucas did by producing this movie is at least a little bit of a racist. Yeah, I said it.
I’ll conclude by talking about one of my all-time favorite TV shows: Lost. Among other things, Lost broke new ground by showing us that diversity is an end unto itself. The cast is a multiethnic, multiracial group of people whose varying religious, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds create a tapestry of experiences unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When a minor character is revealed to be gay in season four, I could almost hear the writers turning to each other and saying, “Eh, why not? We haven’t had any gay characters yet.” In my fiction, I always strive not to make my characters all white men simply because I am. To get an insider’s perspective on a certain group of people, one needs to be a member of said group, which is probably why George Lucas neither wrote nor directed Red Tails. But to write about a group of people, all one needs is respect. Spike Lee has it. George Lucas has it. Tyler Perry doesn’t. For that reason, I will always respect those first two, no matter how much they do to destroy my goodwill (and boy, has George Lucas done a lot of that.) But in spite of everything I’ve said, I still think having Greedo shoot first was a really fucking stupid idea.