Somewhere over the Rainbow.

7 09 2009

The Good.

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.

The bad.

My child (yet to exist) will never hear the dulcet tones of Chakka Khan (yes, ya’ll, that’s Chakka!  She’s every woman and the only woman to sing both incarnations of the theme.) sing the Reading Rainbow theme.  As of Friday, August 28th, the Reading Rainbow is no more.
First Michael and then RR.  Have you seen my childhood?

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The Ugly.

Latoya Peterson over at Jezebel shared the news in Variety that Tyler Perry has been asked to “write, direct and produce an adaptation of the 1975 play ” ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.’ “ Ms. Peterson’s post on Jezebel is a scalpel of a finely tuned response to this heartbreaking news.

Allow me to be the sledge hammer.

There is a void in entertainment.  A black-hole if you will.  CW scrapped all of its brown-run and peopled shows that weren’t Tyler Perry joints.  There are no new shows on any of the major networks that focus on brown-skinned principles.  Brown show-runners are greatly outnumbered by their white counterparts. The Great White Way lives up to its name despite the success of Ruined.  The number of brown directors, producers, designers working on and off-Broadway in theatre can probably be counted on my hands.

There is a dearth of opportunities for black actors.  I experience this first hand when I scan casting calls for auditions.  I learned very early in the auditioning game that unless the call specifically says, “black”  or “ethnic” there’s no need for me to read any further.  In calls for actors, “American,” “pretty,” “girl-next-door,” “smart,” “shy,” “friendly,” “LEAD,” “Principle,” “quirky,” “neurotic,” “proud,” or “happy,” means that the people behind the table aren’t looking for someone who looks like me.  It’s hard to find work as an actor.  There is far more competition than there are roles.  There are far more roles than there are paychecks.  It’s hard, as an actor, to just be immediately out of the running for roles because the industry only sees you as black.  Or, more specifically, it’s hard as an actor to be immediately out of the running for roles because the industry doesn’t see you because you’re black.

It’s one thing when it’s hard to see a place for yourself when you’re searching Backstage or the casting section of the AEA website or Playbill.com.  It’s another thing completely to not see a place for yourself when you’re flipping channels on TV or watching movie trailers or watching the Tony’s.

So I should be excited about Tyler Perry, shouldn’t I?  He is filling that void.  I should be pleased that he is providing work for such talent as Taraji P. Henson, Angela Bassett and Cecily Tyson.  I should be heartened that Tyler Perry is an artist doing the hard and much needed work of making room for black artists in the entertainment industry and making stories that speak to Black audiences.

Except, Tyler Perry is not an artist.

He’s not a writer.
The themes of his “work” are slapdash hodgepodges of pickaninny stereotypes.  It adds nothing new to the discussion of black identity. His dialogue is unnatural and inartful.  His portrayals of women lack… well frankly, what don’t they lack?  His musings on the male/female dynamic read as elementary school morality tales.

He is not a director.
His plays, movies and television shows lack the steady hand of a person with a dedication to guiding the story. The lack of set, lighting and sound design is so woeful, it can’t be explained away simply as a lack of knowledge.  The fact that he his unable to clearly articulate the stories that he has himself crafted helps me to further know that directing is not something that he can do.

He is not an actor.  He can’t even play straight.  (I don’t really need to get into that, do I?)

I’m even going to go so far as to say that he’s not a producer, since I don’t think that people should be rewarded for consistently producing crap.  Babies, dogs, cats, birds, gerbils… those are all things that produce crap independent of thought or art but we’re not honoring them with NAACP recognition.

Mr. Perry doesn’t care about art or black artists or black audiences.  If Mr. Perry cared about art he would refine his “crafts.”  If Mr. Perry cared about his black audiences he wouldn’t persist shoving his sorry excuse of work down their throats.  He wouldn’t insult them or the artists he employs by producing half-assery.

Worse, Mr. Perry works in collusion with the entertainment industry.  As long as he is producing his garbage, the big studios never have to take Ms. Henson or Ms. Bassett seriously.  The industry never has to seriously consider making room for brown actors, writers, producers or directors because Tyler Perry is more than happy to dress up as Madea and shuck and jive a script at them.    On and off-Broadway houses (and companies) don’t have to worry about developing the work of artists of color because Tyler Perry shows kill.  They rake in money and actors who desperately need jobs to keep the lights on.

You know, a great number of people within the black community accuse Mr. Perry’s detractors of being bourgeoisie.  Let’s not get it twisted.  My frustration with Tyler Perry is not about me being bougie.  I am.  I don’t have a problem with that.  If you do, you’re reading the wrong blog.  My frustration with Tyler Perry is about art.  Simply filling the void with any old thing isn’t good enough.  Tyler Perry is all about throwing what’s good enough at us when he is in the position to actually do something better.  The fact that he doesn’t wounds me at my very core as an artist and a black person.

When I look at my opportunities as an actor (and an artist) of color and I see it breaking down along the lines of not-working and doing the shit that Tyler Perry passes off as work I feel disgust and anger.  Angry that the industry doesn’t think that people who look like me matter enough to make a living doing my craft and have my stories be told.  Disgusted that Tyler Perry exploits that, not to make art, or tell stories that need to be told, but to make a quick buck.  He’s the liquor store on every other corner of my predominately brown neighborhood.

He’s not fit to tell anyone’s stories much less the seminal story of Ntozake Shange.  For Colored Girls requires an artist and it’s clear that Mr. Perry has no interest in that (nor it seems, does the industry).

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7 responses

8 09 2009
Elaine

But how do you *really* feel?

I have never understood the appeal of Tyler Perry. And I weep for the fate of “For Colored Girls” – I can’t imagine any man taking on that material, much less someone as ham-fisted as Perry.

8 09 2009
CKHB

This former-actress white girl sends her sympathies. There truly is nothing worse than seeing amazing writing being adapted by a hack… except perhaps knowing that it’s the hack or NOTHING AT ALL.

8 09 2009
Josh

Let’s not even mention the damage perry does to queer communities of color by his very existence.

My brain rejected this news. It was like, “nope”. I saw it trying to get in through my skull, but it just slid down my hair and onto the floor.

8 09 2009
Baby Power Dyke

Tyler Perry: What queer communities? They don’t/can’t/won’t exist in my world. If I put enough gospel allegories in my work I can’t possibly be gay!

8 09 2009
Rachel B. L.

*STANDING O*

10 09 2009
Kaia

BPD, I am linking to you in my 30 Lovely Blogs-post, because you always make me stop and think. I really like that.

http://wp.me/pmUOD-yE

20 02 2010
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