5 Things “The Have And Have Nots” Has In Common With “Scandal”

…elitists’ dislike of Popular culture came from their dislike of the common man. They attacked their taste and cultural preferences since they no longer could openly express their disdain for the masses directly. One may feel that “the people is a great beast” but one cannot say so anymore. There was also a lingering resentment on the part of many European and some American intellectuals who felt they were not accorded the prestige and status they merited in our egalitarian, bourgeois society…

 

Popular culture and elite culture are not that different, except, perhaps, at the furthest extremes of the arts spectrum: professional wrestling at one end and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake on the other. If Hamlet is broadcast on network television, does this represent popular culture (since millions presumably see it) or elite culture, since it is a classic work of art? Postmodernist critics have taken the position that popular culture does not differ significantly from elite culture and in recent years, the development of what is now called cultural criticism has enabled critics to deal with all genres, forms, levels, and kinds of art.

 

Popular culture is just what it says it is–culture (the operative term) that has wide appeal and is enjoyed by large numbers of people…
–Arthur Asa Berger, “Myth Of Mass Culture”

Although, I have my qualms with both Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, I have noticed a few things in common with both of their shows. I have also noticed the pattern that some of Shonda’s fans have expressed by demeaning Perry’s show as “low brow”. I do not think any subscriber of “Scandal” really has any room to demean Perry’s show. And with that in mind, I have decided to present:

Five things that Tyler Perry’s “Have And Have Nots” Has In Common With Shonda Rhimes’ “Scandal”:

1. Both are doing extraordinary ratings numbers for their respective stations

“The Haves And The Have Nots” as of July 31, 2013 generated 1.87 million total viewers. According to the same source,”The episode also was OWN’s second-most-watched telecast among women 25-54, behind the show’s May premiere.”

Further, “Following a series high for the July 30 episode, the one-hour series cracked the 2 million total viewers mark for its most recent broadcast. Thus far this season, The Haves and the Have Nots is averaging 1.7 million viewers and a 1.5 rating among women 25-54 during its Tuesday 9 p.m. period.” According to Madame Noire,”show pulled in a record high 2.6 million viewers on Tuesday for its fall finale, and because of that, it became the #1 episode in the series history”. Thus,the show debuts at 1.77 million viewers for the first season, and ends the season with 2.6 million viewers of the season finale.

Also,“Citing numbers from The Nielsen Company, the series has grown for eight consecutive weeks in the key female demo, propelling the finale episode to score its highest rating of the season with a 2.21 among women 25-54, delivering a 40% growth among women 25-54 and 44% growth in total viewers versus the season average (1.58 W25-54, 1.8 million total viewers).”

“Scandal” had a 6.7 million viewership for the season two opener, and a 10.5 million viewers tuned in to watch its third season opener. For comparison and standardizing factors, NBC’s Monday Night Football–the highest ranked television product for the week of Sept. 22, 2013 by Nielsen— had 20,493,000 viewers. Also, “The season three premiere of Scandal garnered a series-high 3.6 adults 18-49 rating, up 13 percent from a 3.2 for the season two finale.”

2. Both are prime time dramas

There is somewhat of an argument brewing on the labeling of both shows. While “The Haves” is billed primarily as a “soap opera” it is also billed as a “drama series”. The same with “Scandal”. The degree of political intrigue, and possibly its Washington, DC setting, also have given it reason to be labeled a “political drama” in the same genre as “24”.

Regardless of the labeling, I am more concerned with the dramatic emotional appeal that both shows obviously drive in a prime time slot. Prime time slots are gold to the television market, and that both shows have been able to create dedicated audiences in that time allotment speaks to their attraction. That these shows also are both heavily driven by themes of intrigue, class, and elitism in that particular time slot is reason for the media analyst and media communicator to study the impact and ascertain the formula of success.

3. Both are the story of Elite Whites And Socially Mobile Blacks

As stated in the last paragraph, both shows deal with themes of White elitism. “The Haves” is the story of three families: The Cryers’, The Harringtons’, and The Youngs’.

The Cryers’ are the established White family headed by the politically conscious Savannah criminal courts judge, Jim Cryer and his wife, Katheryn, an heiress and housewife. The Harringtons’ are a socially mobile Black family, headed by Veronica and David. The Youngs’ are the “Have Nots” of the series, with Candance Young having an extramarital affair with the patriarch and judge, Jim Cryer.

In the same vein, “Scandal” is the story of Olivia Pope’s crisis management firm, Pope & Associates. The clientele is upscale and elite in the same manner as “The Have and Have Nots” storyline. Olivia Pope is an Ivy League educated Black Woman her father, Rowan Pope, being the head of the CIA division of B613.

Both shows have appealed to its audience’s apparent desire for “Huxtablism”, which I am just going to refer to the writer that I borrowed it from and define it as the Black African American Bourgeois experience as represented in Black African American media. While there has been an online petition to have Tyler’s stage play turned television series removed from the OWN network, I only see production differences and a need for elite negroes to feel better than other US Blacks. Given any extra budget expenses allotted for production than these two productions would not have much separating them. The themes in the writing of both are based on Black exploration of upper echelons of White patriarchal capitalist space. The themes in the writing of both are based on Black exploration of capitalist control of government power. The themes in the writing of both are based on the ideas of the tragic mulatto, the overwhelmed Black woman of lower class stock enraptured by the White man of means.

Whatever the differences in how these themes are exhibited on the screen, they are basically the same themes.

4. Both have Black Women characters in interracial affairs with White patriarchs

Since I am doing pretty good with the segues as of late, as mentioned in the last paragraph, both shows deal with an interracial coupling of a White man and Black Woman. What is interesting from the perspective of US Black African American media analysis is that both story lines not only involve Black Women with White men, but the type of White men. In “Scandal”, Olivia Pope is having an affair with Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III–also called “Fitz”, the President of the United States of America and former GOP Governor of California. In “The Have and Have Nots”, Candace Young is engaged in an extramarital affair with the judge of Savannah’s Criminal Courts, James “Jim” Cryer.

Both show’s patriarchs are married to wives that are responding to their husband’s indiscretions similarly. Both wives are portrayed as knowing about their husbands’ cheating, as well as them being scripted to smile and “play the game” in public.

5. Both have White Women characters married to powerful White men who have Black mistresses.

(Am I not killing it with the segues?)

“The Have and The Have Nots” shows Katheryn Cryer as the White wife of Jim Cryer who is accepting her position as married to a White patriarch who is cheating on her as part of the game. “Scandal” shows Melody “Mellie” Grant, the First Lady of the United States Of America, as accepting her position as married to a White patriarch who is cheating on her as part of the game. Both women are stylized as being “cold and calculated”. Both are scripted to be accepting their husband’s two-timing due to their own political motivations.

I think it is important as a US Black African American media analyst to recognize not just the characterization of the Black women as mistresses, but also the White Women as manipulative and in some ways cold. Both shows use a very painful historical triangle of power as a fairly dominant theme, namely, the White Wife, The White Master, and The Black Woman as sexual toy. For whatever reason both shows just happen to use this theme, the usage by both shows, as well as the story line in “The Bold & The Beautiful” mentioned in linked article, make this theme one of the most predominant theme in shows involving US Black images.

Spoiler Alert:: Tyler Perry’s Temptation

It is entirely difficult for me to enter Perry’s Temptation without preconceived notions, assumptions, and a lack of suspended judgment. Perry introduces into most of his works a formulaic style, that –although seems to guarantee him financial success– doesn’t leave much for the imagination, nor does it leave room for those of us that like to be objective and neutral in at least a few of our Black media analysis. A Tyler Perry film critique is no country for unbiased review.

Perry is obviously devoted to his Black Christian/Baptist audience. In that regard, his plays, films, television shows, and interpretations of the works of others embodies the patriarchal, the conservative, the absolutist, and the traditional. Any media analysis or critique of his work that can only offer you a rehashing of how patriarchal notions meshed with Black vernacular(urban or rural) and cultural artifacts and western notions of romance is at best a superficial musing; at worst, another academic looking to take shots on the 4 foot rim. And yes, poking those particular holes in Perry’s work is just that easy. In that regard, nothing that Tyler Perry does should be unfamiliar: the ingredients of his secret sauce could be expounded upon by a 10 year old cartoon character in less than three minutes. More importantly, so much of Perry’s Temptation is the urban and predominantly Black cast version of “The Family That Prays”.

much of Perry’s Temptation is the urban and predominantly Black cast version of “The Family That Prays”.

I leave those initial statements there as disclaimer more for the sake of those that might choose to publicly analyze Perry’s Temptation, than for my own feeble attempt at political correctness. Any Black attempting a fair media analysis is beset by that gnawing reality that entertain and art are essentially subjective, thus no matter how disciplined or analytic the you or I might be, we still make a choice somewhere whether to like or dislike the movie based on criteria that is not always born by the content of the piece of entertainment or art. Moving on.

Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor written for the screen, directed, and produced by Tyler Perry is the narrative, or confession, of Judith, a middle aged marriage counselor.We are introduced to the story’s narrator, holding what appears to be marriage counseling sessions as she uses herself in anecdote as a moral story for not cheating, well, for not entering into an affair that has been suggested. The visual chronology is a bit off putting because initially we are given what appears to be a Black woman in her late 30s to 40s without any hint or subtitle of the date of the setting, but are told that she and her husband met 19 years prior to her meeting a social media guru at the age of 26 where the bulk of her narrative is set. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t become a household name until around 2009, but I’ll give Perry 2005, 2006, but it still is confusing because we are talking a good 20 years of physical age difference in the looks of the characters in the setting the narrator exists in. While I am on that note, the other glitch in production is that Judith’s mother, Sarah, looks the same age while Judith is supposedly 5 years old, a teenager, and 23-24 when Judith is marrying to her husband Brice.

Perry’s Temptation, although roughly 16 minutes short of two hours, left me wanting more for the initial age sequence built from what we find out is the span of 19 years. Perry’s Temptation toys at the concept of “show don’t tell” with the oft-mentioned rape scene, yet it fails to show us the burgeoning romance between Brice and Judith. One of the shortcomings of the writing of Tyler’s Temptation is that we are given very piecemeal portions of Brice’s character, and for the most part, we only know Brice in conjunction to Judith. This begs a question, sure, because we really don’t know that much about Judith. Also, we are made cognizant via dialogue, a luxury that Perry–as a playwright– often abuses, that Judith has attended and graduated from college, yet we don’t see her attending college during Judith as narrator’s depiction of her and Brice’s childhood romance. Tyler’s dependence on the voice of morality, Judith’ mother, Sarah, leaves a gaping hole in the overall character development and fluidity of Temptation as he needs to show us that her mother is always there watching over them. But, as far as whom these characters are is limited to a notion that Brice has been fairly clingy since Sunday School.

It probably makes 60 year old veterans of the Black Christian/Baptist matriarchy feel all warm inside, but for us Black media analyst that like a little meat on their fiction, it leaves Perry open for criticism on a level that Perry –a guy who has become the leading Black media producer and gatekeeper of the 2000s– should not be still dealing with. Given that Perry takes 30 minutes developing the relationship between Judith and Temptation’s antagonist, I would believe dedicating ten minutes of that for Temptation’s character evolution–maybe even just a full scene of them in high school, at least show her attending college, damn– would have gone a long way.

The antagonist of Perry’s Temptation, Harley, is injected into the story line while Judith is employed as a matchmaker working for Janise Wise portrayed by Vanessa Williams. Harley, supposedly the Black Shawn Parker, an urbane social media guru who is negotiating a deal with Janise Wise to build a dating site. Although, way too many minutes long, and a certain lack of chemistry between Jornee Smollet-Bell, who is cast as “Judith”, and Robbie Jones(“Harley”), I was captured by the development of their relationship.

Perry has a knack for squeezing various elements of Black culture into a plot cheesy enough to make your mother catch the holy ghost.

Perry has a knack for squeezing various elements of Black culture into a plot cheesy enough to make your mother catch the holy ghost. Although the subtly of a Perry script is Mother Goose meets King James–Temptation not being an exception–I chuckle and think to my Self, “yeah, I know a person like that” when Judith details why she does not like the idea of match making and online dating. It is not just a Southern Black perception of the online world, most Blacks across many subcultures of our subculture are prone to have issues with less than organic forms of social involvement, especially of the romantic sort. I was intrigued in a very reluctant manner with the alternating cuts and viewpoints regarding relationship via dialogue (this time it is complimentary) that was shared by the two. I was not happy with the plot device used to compare and contrast the archetypal “bad boy” with the archetypal “good guy”.

tyler perry's temptation

The cut scene from her just having a discussion with Harley to her rushing into her and Brice’s apartment and forcing him to be “passionate” with her sexually was confusing and embarrassing. This scene makes me wish Perry’s Temptation had spent more time developing the storyline of Judith and Brice’s earlier years because it feels as though this side of Judith comes out of thin air. It asks much too much of my imagination. The more salient point of this for the purposes of media impact is that works as foreshadow to justify a rape scene. Perry shows us that Judith wants to have an aggressive and spontaneous sexual experience that her husband Brice is too conservative to provide her with. Later, we are given the aggressive and slightly spontaneous experience in the form of a rape. The cut scene is not the only scene I have problems with, as I take issue with this entire discussion. I can almost stomach the Protestant era code of conduct propaganda as “morality play”, but, the “thug” versus the “choir boy” sans the streets and sans the singing is very much a Black cultural discussion that I am tired of insecure Black men having.

Beyond the need for Perry to use Temptation as a tacit standard pointer for what makes a “good guy” or a “bad guy”, Perry’s Temptation handles rape very irresponsibly. Judith is invited to a business trip to New Orleans with Harley. Due to Judith’s rural upbringing, she is counseled by her coworker, Ava ,played by Kim Kardashian, on how to dress. Not quite sure where Perry is pulling this archetype from as most rural and formally educated Black women that had conservative church going mothers would have been showing Ava how to dress in the same way Beyoncé would be teaching Kim Kardashian how to, but I do feel as though Kim is the voice of the “sexy standard” that Black men want in women as opposed to Harley who in Perry’s mind represents what Black women want from their professional Black men (I’m not totally sure he gets either right). With Kim as her guide into all things male libido, we cut scene to Judith arriving to a private jet and whisked away to lush lounges and strolling out with expensive daiquiris because that’s what you do in a Tyler Perry movie when you leave your husband at home and go away on a business trip to the bayou.

We are given about three minutes of nothing business related New Orleans and we are back on the private jet. With another relationship related conversation in tow, Harley tells Judith he wants to make love to her and forces him Self onto her. The major feelings of disturbance for me arose at the moment Harley breaks, makes the comment about her being able to say she resisted and we cut scene. I personally wish Perry would have just shown the rape because we already have the justification from the scene earlier, and now we have this gap in continuity that leaves a question in the air. The only reference we have for the rape is after Harley has dropped her off at home in front of her husband and mother with Judith smiling when Judith is in the bathroom mirror fantasizing about being raped. This is problematic.

Because we don’t discuss the reality that this is a rape scene in throughout the film, it impresses on the public conscious questions that are left unanswered. We go from a smiling Judith that just got raped, to a jealous Judith that calls Harley in the middle of the night and leaves to go be with him. We see Judith with Harley in a romantic setting being enticed to snort cocaine, which of course, she does. At this point, I’m left to say that Judith is a weak character, and that this movie portrays rape as a form of seduction. The “bad boy”, Harley–who is styled as “satan” through the symbolic coloring of his car and a daunting selection of burning candles where the smoke is more readily accessed than the fire—eventually moves Judith in, and they leave the life of rap stars. Although Harley is supposed to be a social media mogul, we do not see or hear of the business venture that they initially decide to embark on and that consequently caused Judith to quite her job. As Judith quits her job she makes a comment about the authenticity of her former employer’s accent, I suppose this is to show us how sophisticated Judith has grown. I suppose around this portion of the movie we get a climax when Judith and Harley go to pick up Judith’s laptop(of course Apple got the product placement nod). Judith walks in and her mother is in a prayer ritual a la Beloved. As Judith attempts to walk out with the laptop, she is grabbed by her mother and then Harley grabs the laptop and knocks Judith’s mother to the floor. This scene immediately made me state out loud, “Ah naw, in real life, they would have rushed that nigga…”

The crescendo occurs after Harley unable to find his cocaine after being slandered and attacked by Judith, beats Judith. Judith is left for dead until Brice, who is concurrently having a discussion with Melinda who tells Brice that her former husband who gave her HIV was Harley. The “good guys” always have impeccable timing in Tyler Perry’s worlds. So, Brice– mustering courage from some magical place that does not exist until this last chapter before epilogue—hits and kicks Harley, and grabs Judith and walks her to the car or whatever.

Cut scene back to Judith the narrator’s time and office. Judith concludes the story and her client promises to end the affair she is in. Judith walks, or limps ( actually, it is more of a nice paced stroll), to the pharmacy where we see that Melinda is still stocking shelves and has not gotten her half of Harley’s estate, and Brice now owns the pharmacy and is with a woman who we are able to assume is the mother of the child he is picking up and calling “son”. The credits cue with us watching Judith hobbling (oh, no confusion there) towards the horizon.

Because the redemption of the movie rests on Brice, I take issue with Perry’s Temptation being a public conference on what makes a man a “good man” and what does not. Perry’s Temptation presents a one sided discussion whereby the man that doesn’t say anything when the woman he is walking with is disrespected is redeemed and qualified as the “good guy” versus a man that immediately becomes physical even in the event of an obvious accident is “satan”. There is a not so subtle discussion occurring through Perry’s Temptation that feels like locker room or barbershop banter regarding what Black women “really” want from men, and what Black women “should” want from men. In contrast, we are presented with a Black woman that represents Judith’s opposite in Melinda played by Brandy, who gives us Moesha as a 30-something year old, but I am going to leave that all alone!

I am a little disturbed because we are, once again via dialogue, given this character Melinda that is the ex-wife of Harley. Nothing about Melinda suggests Harley at any point of either of their lives, though! Why is the ex-wife of a social media guru that owns a private jet working at a pharmacy? I understand that women in abusive relationships often need to put distance between them Self and their abusers, but divorce is divorce and I can’t buy into that aspect of Perry’s Temptation. The agency of the women in the movie with regard to retribution is lacking. On one hand there is a woman that has been raped and no cops have been called, on the other hand there is the divorcee that doesn’t collect any money from her annulment and has somehow been diagnosed as having HIV but her high profile former husband can scour the land spreading HIV with no legal ramifications. No one calls the police in the movie. I almost wish Perry would have donned grandma-ma pajamas and wig once more and brought the gun totting matriarch that is really a patriarch in drag, Madea in to rectify these loose ends.

Melinda is supposedly all that Brice wants in his Judith, or has lost. The danger for me with Melinda is that she does not offer any redemption. Whatever moral symbol she is to play in Perry’s Temptation is lost on me. She is presented as a wholesome, yet sophisticated, woman who could be the “right” woman for Brice, but, she has HIV. As most critics of this movie I’ve read have suggested, I too believe that Perry is using HIV to represent “hell fire and damnation” and in that regard, Melinda doesn’t provide a redeeming image for the women, especially the young women, watching this “morality play”. In the moral world of Perry’s Temptation, a Black woman is damned if she gets raped and damned if she gets married. There is no message that a Black woman could walk away from this movie with as moral guidance if I am to follow the vein of patriarchal, Protestant values. For the male characters in Tyler’s Temptation, there is no true “punishment” for doing what the Black women do.

Brice is well rewarded for being the “good guy” husband, although he has known Judith since they were 5 or 6 years old and fumbles on her birthday, does not know she periodically likes rough sex, in fact, I will stretch out my analysis and say the guy does not know who Judith is, let alone should he get the husband of the year award. In the world of Perry’s Temptation, a man should be dubbed “good guy” because he is passive, authoritarian, and apparently absent minded. Yet, Brice is able to attempt to kiss Melinda with no compunction while he is still depressed about losing the love of his life. In Perry’s Temptation, being raped is punishable by HIV, and being married to the wrong man is punishable by HIV, but as long as you are either rich or the “good guy”, or hell, A MAN, you are exempt from the punishments faced by the women of the movie.

There are no resolutions for a man who we are to assume is just passing HIV out like candy on Halloween. I am left to believe that the Black man, a dark skinned brother at that, who is touted as being the next best thing to Mark Zuckerberg in a setting that is supposed to be circa 2006– eh, give or take a few years for good measure and hopes that you can play on the imagination, or ignorance, of the audience on the timeliness of what would the present setting(that is, how far in the future is the narrator’s setting)– can go around giving women, plural, HIV? I am supposed to elicit a moral proponent – albeit sexist, protestant, and naive as hell– from a world where a high profile, Black social media programmer can have HIV and no one know about it but the spouse that contracted from him?

There is no resolution, or at least no redemption, for the two women who are now living with HIV. In Tyler Perry’s world, Black women with HIV aren’t able to move on with committed relationships although I personally know couples where one party is HIV positive and a Black woman. In Tyler’s world, why can’t Black women find love after HIV? Why is it that only the Black women are left single and stuck in the purgatory of dead in jobs while we don’t know what happens to Brice, and her husband is now happy with child and what appears to the owner of the pharmacy we are told in the beginning is his dream?

In the end, we sort of get more preaching to a familiar choir from a familiar preacher giving his familiar sermon. The icon of the film poster is a snake that wraps itself into the form of an apple giving further nod to Perry’s Christian/Baptist ideology and understanding of temptation, namely the story of Adam and Eve. And in Perry’s Temptation Eve not only walks away from the Garden of Eden, Adam gets to stay, so she walks alone.

 

For Colored Girls who appreciate Ntozake Shange AND Tyler Perry…

As per my request, our Asylum sister, @Chey_Marly_mom has once again blessed our humble Asylum with a posting. Please enjoy…

I intended to read “For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” the choreopoems by Ntozake Shange, before I went to see Tyler Perry’s film adaptation, “For Colored Girls”. Be that as it may, I didn’t receive my copy of the book soon enough in advanced of my pre-scheduled night out at the movies with my girlfriends. And ladies night out occurs far too infrequently for me to have considered postponing that much needed date with my sister friends, sans little people and significant others. In my comment posted to @AllTayo’s review of the film, I declared that I am most certainly not one of those people who’d made up my mind about Tyler’s efforts prior to seeing his interpretation. Black media was/is flooded with commentary, more negative than positive, about Tyler’s pre-supposed audacity for even attempting to bring Ntozake Shange’s poetic works to the big screen. And not so much because of its sacredness, I’m convinced, but more so because of the messenger and his pre-existing repertoire of works that seemingly portray blacks in a stereotypical light. I’ve seen several of Perry’s movies prior to my viewing of “For Colored Girls”, and he is notorious for his exaggerated presentation of the distressed black female experience. After seeing his rendition of Ntozake’s works, without previously experiencing her poetic compositions, I wasn’t mad. I’ve since read the choreopoems, and I’m STILL not mad. I’m particularly not mad at him for MAKING the film. In fact I thought it to be his best work…and that remains unchanged.

Now let me be really clear, “I’m STILL not mad” means that with regard to Tyler writing; producing, and directing the screen play, he did well. Reading the actual choreopoems for myself has actually made me appreciate to some degree his growth and development as a filmmaker. “For Colored Girls” is INSPIRED by Ntozake’s poetry. It is NOT and should not be viewed as a literal depiction of the choreopoems. Her poetry has been celebrated and performed by theatre groups on Broadway and amateur stages, bars, and lounges across the country EXACTLY as she intended for over 30 years…in verses verbatim, live…with music, lighting & set design. There has to be some consideration for what elements are necessary to transcribe such a piece of art to Hollywood motion picture standards, and all that is required to make a film a blockbuster (i.e. relevance, controversy, star power). I mean ANY attempt to translate literary works to cinema is a huge proposition… and all will likely not be content.

With that being said…Ntozake Shange’s work should be required reading for anyone who wishes to experience firsthand HER expression of the (urban) Black woman’s experience through her poetry. The women represented in the choreopoems as colors green, yellow, orange, red, purple, blue and brown(lady in white, played by Whoopi Goldberg is Tyler’s creation) portray embattled and familiar lives. Their stories are revealed in the backdrop of 7 infamous cities across the country and their confrontation with poverty, rape, prostitution, aspirations, disappointments & death seem to be further antagonized by relationships with dysfunctional black men. But these women and their experiences are nonetheless empowering. Each of them has an underlying fighting spirit that is captured in their melodious prose.

Lady in green: “…somebody almost ran off wit alla my stuff/& I was standin
there/lookin at myself/the whole time
& it wasn’t a spirit took of my stuff/waz a man whose
ego walked round like Rodan’s shadow/waz a man faster
in my innocence/waz a lover/ i made too much
room for/almost run off wit alla my stuff/
& I didn’t know i’d give it up so quik/& the one running wit it/
don’t know he got it/ & i’m shoutin this is mine/ & he don’t
know he got it/ my stuff is anonymous ripped off treasure
of the year/ did you know somebody almost got away with me/
me in a plastic bag under their arm/me
dangling on a string of personal carelessness/ i’m spattered wit
mud & city rain….”

The lady’s and their colors in the choreopoem are not synonymous to the film… and this I believe is where Tyler may have also disenchanted some of the scrutinizing champions of Ntozake’s work. Again, (and I hate to be all #TeamTylerPerry) there has to be some consideration for revisions that are required to produce a movie based on another artists work that was originally created in a completely different medium. Notwithstanding, I believe the film’s premise is consistent with what Ntozake wanted to convey. That Black women are often times on the receiving end of hardships that leave us wounded in ways that makes being called a “strong black woman” a condition as opposed to a moniker. The narratives are homogeneous.

Lady in blue:
“…I got sorry greeting me at my front door
you can keep yours
I don’t know what to do wit em
they dont open doors
or bring the sun back
they don’t make me happy
or get a morning paper
didn’t nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars
cuz a sorry

I am simply tired
of collectin
I didn’t know
I was so important toyou’
im gonna haveta throw some away
I cant get to the clothes in my closet
for alla the sorries
im gonna tack a sign to my door
leave a message by the phone
if you called
to say your sorry
call somebody
else
i don’t use em anymore’

i let sorry/didn’t meanta/ & how could i know about that
take a walk down a dark & musty street in brooklyn
i’m gonna do exactly what i want to
& I wont be sorry for none of it
letta sorry soothe your soul/im gonna soothe mine”

I really don’t wish to make a detailed comparison or break down all of the specific differences between the two works because I think it would be unfair for anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to make their own assessment. For me “For Colored Girls” was a very ambitious undertaking by Tyler. I understand fully why some feel like Ntozake’s work didn’t need any interpretation and I further understand why Tyler may have felt compelled to challenge himself with a piece that has some familiarity to him, is widely respected, beloved and demands considerable handling. But ultimately, it isn’t a far stretch from his prior works which seems to be the primary reason for the vitriol from his erudite critics. I mean if Forrest Whitaker had made “For Colored Girls” I wonder if there would be as much shade. Anyway I digress…

Now, I am not a media analyst in any way. I leave that to the experts! (cues Owl). But I am somewhat of a critical thinker at times and I believe that both pieces of work have made a contribution. Whether that contribution is positive or negative is subjective to the surveyor. I’ve had numerous conversations with movie goers who walked away with something after seeing “For Colored Girls”… whether observing their own reflection or that of another woman/man they know, inspiration, and or dissatisfaction with the under/over development of Tyler’s characters. It’s important to point out that due to the lack of “positive” images of blacks and the current illuminati like obsession with the plight of black women (i.e. standards of beauty, education, career, family and marital status) a film celebrating or disparaging our likeness will generate an audience due to lack. We are starved of images of ourselves and although there are plenty of literary works available to supplement; there is a deficit in its consumption. The movie has resurrected the poems, the BOOK… another reason I’m not mad.

I can’t leave you with this post and not share the most serendipitous moment I experienced reading Ntozake’s choreopoem. This actually brings me to the one significant criticism I have with Tyler’s work. What it means to be black and proud is an anomaly intrinsic to a people who have been systematically oppressed for generations. Ntozake Shange clearly wanted to convey in her poetry the experience of being colored and female with this predicament. There is no question that Black people have an inherent strength & tenacity. For whatever reason Tyler chooses not to or is simply not creativity capable (yet) of successfully portraying the balance between self hate and self love & the many contributing factors to both conditions. Ntozake was able to exemplify this in her writing….I cannot tell you how moved I was by the words of her lady in brown throughout the choreopoem(again, not synonymous to Tyler’s lady in brown). Please take a moment to read the poem below to better understand my enchantment… better yet I would recommend adding “For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” to your library.

Lady in brown: “dark phrases of womanhood
of never havin been a girl
half-notes scattered
without rhythm/no tune
distraught laughter fallin
over a black girl’s shoulder
it’s funny/ it’s hysterical
the melody-less ness of her dance
don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
she’s dancing on beer cans & shingles

this must be the spook house
another song with no singers
lyrics/ no voices
& interrupted solos
unseen performances

are we ghouls?
children of horror?
the joke?

don’t tell nobody don’t tell a soul
are we animals? have we gone crazy?

I can’t hear anything
but maddening screams
& the soft strains of death
& you promised me
you promised me…
somebody/anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/struggle/hard times
sing her song of life
she’s been dead so long
closed in silence so long
she doesn’t know the sound
of her own voice
her infinite beauty
she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune
sing her sighs
sing the song of her possibilities
sing a righteous gospel
let her be born
let her be born
& handled warmly.”

For Colored People Who Don’t Pay To See Movies When Tyler Perry Directs Them

I haven’t been able to see the movie that Tyler Perry recently released because I haven’t found a copy of it online.(Periods don’t just end sentences) Since I knew that our long time friend of The Asylum, @AllTayo had seen the movie recently, I asked her to present her thoughts about it for us.

When Owl asked me to write this review, my first reaction was no. I didn’t feel comfortable in putting my opinion of the film out there; but after some gentle cajoling, I decided, on a whim, to do so. Full disclaimer, I have not seen the stage play or read the choreopoems as originally conceived by Ntozake Shange, so my opinions are based solely on this movie, my experiences and a vague concept of the original.

The first hurdle to tackle with this movie was the writer/director/producer at the helm: Tyler Perry. Perry has found a very comfortable niche with the bringing his “chitlin’ circuit” plays to the big screen. This has been what has brought him to the general public eye and is responsible for the large part of his fame today. And he has his market: the “round the way” Black folks, more specifically Black women. I find that most of his films/plays, while readily consumable, fall back into a easy formula of “bad Black man wrongs the Black woman. Black woman is bitter and angry, hates life and lashes out at those around her, especially the ones who want to help her most. But Praise God Almighty, she finds a ‘good Black man’ and all of her troubles vanish with the flash of his pearly whites.” He relies so much on the stereotypes and cheap and crude jokes to get a quick laugh, touching on serious topics, but not delving in far enough to make us really examine them. But it brings us (Black women) to the theater, especially because we are starved for seeing movies that feature women of our hue in roles that aren’t just the sassy-sidekick-head-rolling-Guuuurrrrrlllllllll!! type roles. Kudos for Perry. And I mean that in a non-sarcastic way. He has shown to Hollywood that movies with predominately Black casts can be profitable. And I hope it paves the way for more Black movies with varied topics and ranges of emotions to come along.

Anyway, back to For Colored Girls. The movie introduces us to the characters and their stories and shows how their lives begin to intertwine. The cinematography was beautiful, as many of Tyler Perry’s films are. The apartments to me seemed worn and tired and it made you wonder how many stories their walls had seen. I was aware that each woman had a color and it was evident enough in the actresses’ clothing who was who. Every actress brought their A game with the roles they were given. I’m a big fan of Black star power and this movie had it in spades. Kimberly Elise shone as an abused mother. Phylicia Rashad brought her graceful ways as the apartment manger who seemed to double as the wise “Earth Mother” type. Macy Gray (whose acting has never disappointed) masterfully performed her part as a creepy back alley abortionist. Kerry Washington, a great actress in her own right, was not given enough material to show her chops, I feel, and her character functioned more so as a link between the other characters and we were not really allowed to experience her story. Thandie Newton stole all her scenes as the sex-crazed, but troubled bartender; I will say, however, that a lot of her lines bordered on very stereotypical (Perry’s specialty), which drew the “obvious” laughs.

Aside from all this, the movie was brought down for me by the writing. I believe that it would be somewhat hard to take a stage play that is more thematic and translate it into a narrative film version that has to tell the stories more literally. There were many times that the film broke into the words of Shange from the created dialogue and it caught me off guard. It often took a second to realize that we had shifted into the poems and often by the time I thought to try and listen to what the poems were saying, it had ended and had shifted back to the narrative. This was also complicated for me in a few scenes by the extra “noise” that was going on: overlapping poems spoken at the same time, but not in such a way that you got what both were saying. Poems that were overshadowed by the context of the scenes that they were in. There were times when I wondered if the movie seemed powerful to me because it was actually a powerful movie or if it was because the play on which it was based was powerful itself. Sitting in my seat in the theater, from start to finish, I was on edge. The subject matters were intense and dark: rape, child and woman abuse, cheating, down-low homosexuality, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases. It just seemed that every situation went from bad to worse and at times it was very depressing. My mother leaned over to me a couple of times and whispered “There’s so much bad in this film; I just wish there was at least one positive person.” To which I responded, “I’m not sure if that is the point of this movie.” It just seemed that as the movie wore on, that a heavy feeling came over me, a sense of hopelessness for these characters living their lives on the screen. And even as the movie wrapped up and there was a glimmer of positivity, a sense of “And still I rise…”, it felt like it came too late and was so rushed, as if it was an afterthought. There was no time to actually embrace those thoughts and feelings that would have allowed the viewer to walk out of the theater with a smile in her heart.

All that said, I do feel like this is Tyler Perry’s best effort at movie making to date. Could it have been better, yes. Would it have been better if another, more accomplished and more nuanced director undertook the effort? Possibly. Probably. But for me, Black star power shone throughout that movie and if for nothing else, it is worth seeing all these wonderful and often times overlooked Black actors and actresses get the opportunity to stretch out and flex their acting muscles.

Tayo isn’t really a movie critic, she just plays one on TV.

Aaron McGruder’s Tyler Perry: Just Another Gay Joke From The Emasculated Black Man?

So, I stayed up and watched Boondocks last night, and I must say Aaron McGruder is trying to turn this season around something fierce. In the episode entitled,”Pause”, the show begins with the boys and Granddad watching a play. The play shows a man dressed like Tyler Perry’s Madea character walking on stage while a young lady and a male are sitting on a couch center stage. The Madea like character(called “MaDuke’s” in the show) responds to seeing the couple together by gesturing, pulling out a gun, and asking,”Who dis?” “MaDuke’s” then shoots several shoots in the air. The whole scenario is reminiscent of Tyler Perry’s stage plays.

As the show continues, we find out that Granddad is seeking a role in one of “Winston Jerome’s” plays. We soon find out that Winston Jerome wants a man to play the role of “MaDuke’s” love interest. So, we have a cross-dressing man, seeking a man to play the role of his man dressed as a woman-but-supposed-to-be-a-woman character…I know, I know.

So, McGruder takes us on this voyage of his world’s version of Tyler Perry/Madea in the form of Winston Jerome/MaDukes. McGruder communicates in a not so suitable manner throughout the show that Winston Jerome is more than just an overzealous Jesus Freak who likes to cross-dress for ticket sales–he is also homosexual. As GrandDad is being selected for the role of MaDuke’s love interests, we see Winston Jerome surrounded by shirtless men in speedos, his “shirtless men”. McGruder uses a white Jesus while Jerome narrates how Jesus co-wrote his first script. Upon asking Jesus how to help spread Jesus’ message, McGruder has Jesus reply,”Cross-dressing”. I felt that “McGruder at his most extreme” moment when GrandDad(Robert) is lead into the “compound”(which actually looks a little like Perry’s Studio in Atlanta). Upon entering, Jerome as MaDukes begins a musical number very reminiscent of the performance of “Let’s Do The Timewarp Again” from the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The song Winston as MaDuke performs is entitled,”Its Alright To Cross Dress For God.”

The idea of Tyler Perry, I mean Winston Jerome, running a cult is threaded through out show once we enter the compound as a woman with eyes drawn in a hypnotic trance mentions twice that she needs to get “koolaid”(a referrence to the grape flavored mix used to hide the taste of cyanide in the Jonestown cult mass murder). In fact, as Robert(GrandDad) enters the compound for the Rocky Horror routine, he is greeted by a woman who is holding a glass of what could possibly be kool-aid.

The climax of the show is reached when Huey and Riley attempt to “save” GrandDad(Robert) from kissing MaDukes. They tussle with the elder Freeman until Huey slaps GrandDad(Robert) and GrandDad slaps Riley(You know Riley got to get his face handed to him physically in every show!!). Once again, McGruder references the cult by having GrandDad(Robert) say,”I know it is a homoerotic Christian Theater Cult. But if it gets me into Hollywood who cares?” This is where McGruder reintroduces the original plot theme, and somewhat of a moral dillema of sorts: what is going too far for fortune and fame(hey, an aliteration without even trying!). Another interesting point that is rekindled at the point of climax(no homo), is the use of a phrase, “pause” to express that a man is not homosexual–although their comments might conjure up homosexual references– while addressing a black man who cross-dresses for a black church going female audience. Which in turn raises a question about the susceptibility of the church going Black audience.

I’m not quite sure of McGruder’s own sexual orientation, but this is one of those times when he really brings out the extreme exaggerations to make a point about black male masculinity. This episode in many ways reminds me of the “Gangstalicious” episodes with the homosexual rapper influencing men to wear tank tops, skirts, and purses(Part 1, and Part 2. And of course, in the end we find out that Winston Jerome is indeed homosexual as he propositions Robert(GrandDad) for some “ass”. The final scene shows GrandDad and the boys riding with one of the “big girls” home, as Riley rewinds and pauses(literally) the clip of GrandDad(Robert) kissing MaDukes.

One of the overall problems I have with the critique and the support of this show is that McGruder is NOT addressing the Black Church. He is addressing the exploitative use of the name Jesus, and more directly he is address Tyler Perry and black homosexuality. There are no church scenes in this show, and I think that many are wrongly critiquing this show on that merit. There are some very strong and poignant points that are being made, enough that we don’t have to dig for any that aren’t. I enjoyed the show thoroughly, however, I do feel that McGruder is basically doing what he suggests Perry is doing. It is no secret that many black men don’t respect Perry, and in many ways Perry’s success, or his being chosen for success, represents a further nod at the emasculation of black men. However, I would be amiss if I didn’t state that Tyler Perry does address a lot more topics than the “dark/light skinned thing”, and he does portray black people in more than the traditional stereotypical roles. Which is sort of funny that McGruder feels the need to attack that angle as he has a flock of obese black women chasing GrandDad(Robert) down, and shows black homosexual men with scarves and bald heads(reminscent of Damon Wayans’ portrayal of Blaine Edwards on “In Living Color”). I wish McGruder could have dealt with the collaboration of Perry with Oprah on projects like “Precious” that present some of the most ugly and detrimental images of Black women of our modern time.

I suppose addressing real issues like that wouldn’t be quite as funny for black men as making gay jokes. The hypermasculine gauze is wearing thin for some of the writers out here. One aspect of the show that I’m not reading about is how McGruder uses Riley(the hypermasculine youngster) to explain the usage of ‘No Homo’ and ‘Pause’. How many caught how Riley hugs GrandDad(Robert) just for using the term!!? I don’t want to give McGruder more credit than he might deserve, but I’ll say the contradictory devices used in his work bring a lot to the show. However, I think the desire to call Tyler Perry a homosexual is going to overshadow the need to bring awareness to black women of how susceptible they have become to the name “Jesus”.

We can hint that Tyler Perry is the flamingo club all-star, and flaming is a strong enough term, but that isn’t going to change the fact that he built his audience from the church going black woman, that he can use the word “Jesus” in the same ways that Obama used “Change”(It shouldn’t surprise us that McGruder’s first episode this season was a critique on the “Obama Effect”). Do we really think women are going to stop watching Tyler Perry’s movies? Do we think Hollywood is going to “blacklist” a homosexual Black Man with his hands tied by the purse strings of the American Black woman? Trust me, for every ten men calling Tyler Perry a homosexual coon, I can show you ten men that will let their woman drag them to a movie or play made by a homosexual coon. Tell me I’m wrong.