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18 Jul 2010

Tyler Perry, The Boondocks, and my Black Card

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July 18, 2010 Category: Commentary Posted by:

By Denise Clay


In Blackworld, there are a whole lot of things that you don’t discuss because doing so is the equivalent of touching the Third Rail on a railroad track: you’re going to get shocked to death and it’s usually not worth it.


Among those things are President Barack Obama, whether or not African American fraternities and sororities should continue to exist, and the entertainment juggernaut that is Tyler Perry.


The reason why folks are protective of President Obama is kind of obvious. Why attack a guy who literally has the weight of the world on his shoulders and Tea Party activists lining him up in their gun sites?


The whole fraternity and sorority thing winds up tweaking my friends in the African American middle class who don’t seem to understand that it’s not brotherhood if it involves ritual beatings and the handing over of large sums of money.


But fooling with Tyler Perry is the one that really seems to get you in trouble. I remember putting something on my Facebook page while watching Perry at the Academy Awards that said that I hoped that he would not only never appear on the Oscars again, but that he’d also retire and take Madea with him.


I got 59 responses, most of which were pretty angry.


But they were nothing compared to what I’m sure Aaron McGruder got when he took Perry on in a recent episode of his Cartoon Network Adult Swim hit The Boondocks. In this episode entitled “Pause” Grandpa decides to try out for the lead in a play that is loosely based on one of Perry’s plays.


It also includes a closeted gay man who was loosely based on Perry, complete with a Madea-esque character, a bunch of muscular, shirtless men, and all the platitudes that make Perry’s movies so inherently unwatchable to me.


Before I started writing this column, I made it a point to watch this cartoon, which was hilarious! I especially enjoyed the “Crossdressing for God” scene (which will be familiar to you if you’ve ever been to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.)


My understanding is that Perry was less than amused. Since he produces two shows that run on Cartoon Network’s sister station TBS, he went to management and let them know just how displeased he was. I can see why they listened. I can also see why his Pissed Off Meter went into the red.


But while the homophobic parts of “Pause” kinda left me cold, this cartoon hit the nail on the head when it comes to the product Perry produces.


To say that Perry’s stuff is (a) inane, (b) simplistic and (c) an embodiment of all of the worst stereotypes of Southern Blackness is an understatement. And while I can appreciate him for allowing us to see Philadelphia’s own Jill Scott flex her acting muscles (something that I’m pretty sure wasn’t too hard for someone who had done musical theater) it doesn’t change the fact that he turns out some absolute drivel.


That’s why the next project he’s doing kinda scares me. In fact, if what I’ve already heard about it is any indication, I may just hop in my car, drive to Atlanta, and smack him upside the head.


Perry has bought the rights to the Ntozake Shange’s award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. I was in 5th grade when that play came out, but I saw it and I remember it being one of the strongest interpretations of the struggle of African American women out at that time.


Among the people who were originally part of Perry’s ensemble cast were Phylicia Rashad, Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Divine, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. No, I’m not kidding. Janet Jackson still is and Mariah Carey was supposed to be in this movie, which is based on a play about the struggles of Black women. I guess that Perry thought that Carey’s ability to act without makeup in Precious was enough to make all of us forget Glitter.


(I sat through that. I still have nightmares.)


Thankfully, Perry was able to get Anika Noni Rose, who chewed scenery like Ms, Pac Man in the Broadway adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to join the cast, but I’m still concerned about a possible Madea sighting. Also, I understand that there will have to be slight variaions on the play, like adding men to the cast, but does one of them have to be best known for riding a horse backward and shirtless in an Old Spice ad? Really?


Will we have to change the name to “For Colored Girls Who Want to Whip Your Behind for Messing Up A Really Good Play?”


Now I know that by the act of saying what I just said I’m opening myself up to being called a hater, having my opinion marginalized, and being threatened with the confiscation of my Black Card. Like I said, it’s touching the third rail.


So since I’m on that rail, I may as well dance a minute.


I know that we as Black folks are happy to see ANYONE that looks like us on screen in either movies or television. That’s why reality TV shows like Flava of Love, The T.O. Show, and everything that Perry touches from the annoying House of Payne to the insipid Meet the Browns and all of his “I don’t need to watch the ending because I already know how it ends” movies do so well. We’re so starved for onscreen representations of ourselves that any representation will do.


But we shouldn’t be. Since I know that Hollywood operates on a supply and demand system like everything else in America, I know that if we demand better stuff, and tell folks that we’re take our money elsewhere if we don’t get it, we’ll get better stuff.


We deserve movies in which the ending isn’t something you know by the end of the opening credits. We deserve TV shows that aren’t so filled with caricatures that it hurts to watch.


And we especially deserve a movie based on a great play to have a cast that includes people who can, well, act.


So while I’m not completely down with how Aaron McGruder and the folks at The Boondocks did it, I’m glad that they’ve gotten the “Is Tyler Perry the best we can do?” conversation started.


It’s nice having company on the Black World Third Rail for once.

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