Friday, September 23, 2011


We're talking about the wildly popular entertainer and producer Tyler Perry here, but first, a little background.

From NewsOne:

Spike Lee Compares Tyler Perry To Amos and Andy

“Each artist should be allowed to pursue their artistic endeavors, but I still think there is a lot of stuff out today that is coonery and buffoonery. I know it’s making a lot of money and breaking records, but we can do better. … I am a huge basketball fan, and when I watch the games on TNT, I see these two ads for these two shows (Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne”), and I am scratching my head. We got a black president, and we going back to Mantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat?

A bit more here.

So anybody who really knows me or has read some of my stuff here at Real Art can probably guess that I'm very inclined to agree with Lee's analysis of Perry's work. Indeed, it seems pretty open-and-shut to me: Perry uses broad black stereotypes, virtually always, that hearken back to the overtly racist minstrel shows of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And nobody really questions this, at least, not seriously.

But it's more complicated than this, as racial issues often are in America. It would be one thing if Perry's black buffoonery was directed at a mainstream white audience, but it's not. Perry's amazing success comes, by and large, from black audiences. And his fans are fiercely devoted to him. As an African-American buddy of mine recently put it, can it be so bad if Perry's making so many people laugh and have a good time? Okay, that's a good point. Perry's not satirizing black people so that white people can feel better about themselves: rather, he's lampooning the black experience for black people, who fucking love it.

As a white man who has studied film, it becomes difficult for me to really wade into this discussion simply because I don't have an African-American point of view. Culture isn't so cut-and-dry that it always means the same thing in all circumstances at all points in history to all people. That is, this is quite a slippery, but damned interesting, debate.

And my old pal Reuben's packaged for us on his blog a nice little video exchange on the subject between culture critic Toure', whose comment on Perry serves as the title to this post, and some other guy I've never heard of, but who makes a good case for the man who plays Madea.

So go check it out. And while you're there, check out the rest of Reuben's blog; it's good stuff.