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Do the Right Thing, Spike: Take it Easy on Tyler Perry

posted by nsymmonds

Earlier this year, Spike Lee called Tyler Perry’s work, “coonery and buffoonery”. Lee, a veteran in the industry, believes that we must want more for ourselves in terms of the black entertainment we support and supporting Perry is supporting an “Amos n’ Andy”, shucking and jiving, stereotypical portrayal of ourselves that is unacceptable. It was not long ago that I agreed with Lee…


Once upon a time I wasn’t a fan of Tyler Perry’s work either. The image of a 6’5″ man dressed as a shotgun-toting, loudmouth grandma was a huge turn-off. I joined the chorale of black people who considered his chitterling circuit plays the height of coonery and buffoonery. But then, in 2005, when his plays hit movies theatres nationwide, I took a chance and saw my first Tyler Perry film.
In a room full of journalists and enthusiasts I watched, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” and much to my surprise, I loved it. The presence of Madea was a welcome distraction in the midst of a film that would have otherwise been too intense to sit through without the comic relief. And despite my assumptions about Madea’s roles in his work, she really played second fiddle to the plotlines that focused on the issues that are very real in the black community. The issues of light versus dark, rich versus poor, our relationships, our religion, our dysfunctional families, our abuse, and our misconceptions have been well covered by Perry, who, in one way or another, has gone through these issues. The richness of his life experiences is the heart of his work . That he is a man who experienced abuse, lived in a dysfunctional family, experienced discrimination, felt the sting of poverty, and through it all, still clung firmly to his faith resonates throughout his films.
I found that I could only love the movies of the man when I began to love the man behind the movies. I love him because not only did he turn tragedy into triumph, but he took the bull by the horns and claimed ownership of his work in an industry that doesn’t open the doors to many African Americans. When many said no, he took their no and built his own empire. He writes, produces, directs, stars in, funds and employs black actors and actresses for his movies when they otherwise would not be working in Hollywood. That is the strength of Tyler Perry’s work. It’s not so much about the characters within as it is about where those characters came from. Characters like Madea, Joe, and Leroy Brown that Lee and others consider the prime contributors to the coonery factor, are actually nothing more than combinations of people who Perry has encountered in his life. (Perry shared this in his response to Lee in a 60 Minutes interview.) Chances are, Spike Lee has met those kind of people too and may even have them in his family. I know I have some variation of them. And knowing all I know about Tyler Perry, his life, and his work, I feel I am justified in feeling just as “insulted” and “pissed off” as he is about Lee’s insults toward his work.
A part of me wants to believe that Lee is somewhat jealous of Perry’s seemingly quick success. But I know, someone as accomplished as Lee wouldn’t be jealous. Yet, and still, I have to understand why he felt the need to insult one man’s work, without remembering that a person’s opinion of art is all relative. One person’s “coonery and buffoonery” is another person’s–usually the common person’s–treasure. In the eyes of a critic, Perry will never be right, but in the eyes of his fans, his work will always speak greater volumes than any critic or peer could ever write, say or think.
I’ve certainly gone on long enough about this, but if I say nothing else, I’d like to say to Spike, in hopes that one day he’ll read this screed, that he ought to be his brother’s keeper and not his brother’s killer. After all, Spike, you weren’t always as highly regarded as you are now. It took the guidance of people who cared about your success to get you to where you are now. And while you weren’t fortunate enough to have many other black peers on your level then, you have more now, so take time to embrace those who have different ideas of portraying our lives on film. Respect the differences that both separate us and bring us together. And for God’s sake, don’t provide more fodder for the world outside of the black community. It’s easy for us to be ripped to shreads by people on the outside, it shouldn’t be so easy for us to tear each other apart from the inside. Do the right thing, Spike.



  • AP

    NS –
    Kudos. You’ve articulated a position that many AfAms feel and have never taken the time to translate into substance. It always bothers me when folks take potshots at Tyler Perry, condemning an entire body of work because we do not like 1 character or can’t see past our own entitlement. He’s paid his dues, elevated his game and is successfully running a race many only wish they could run. Tyler’s work is a far cry from the moron marathon on BET.
    He’s jumping the same hurdles as Gordon Parks, as Stan Lathan, as Albert & Allen Hughes, as F. Gary Gray, as John Singleton, as Billie Woodruff, as Lee Daniels and YES… as Spike Lee himself. So why try to trip him up?
    Spike, you have the right not to like Perry’s work. But you should definitely take a long gaze in the mirror to figure out why. Behind the pompous opining about standards and uplifting the community, you may see something ugly and green.
    And I’m not talking about money.
    — Just one man’s 2 cents.
    AP

  • Making a Difference

    Tyler Perry’s work has opened up a lot of eyes in the White community and his stories are True in today’s society. Spike Lee own stories tried to portray the same image as Tyler’s is doing today. Tyler’s stories ARE life. We have someone in our family who will stand up for right, and there is also some in our family who will act the fool. So let’s be real! Tyler Perry movies are about life Today!

  • Denise Willis

    I sat and watch this issue between Spike and Perry while surrounded by whites who was also watching. I watched with shame on my face. I couldn’t hide it. How could Mr. Lee do such a awful thing in public? How could he take pride in beating down another brother’s effort like that. How could he display to the world his awful jealousy?,, that is all i got from that. Then on top of that he also disrespected Amos and Andy.
    Those guys lived in a world Mr. Lee has not a clue about, if he did he wouldn’t have done and said the things he did.
    I didn’t enjoy Mr. Lee’s gutter filled movies but i appreciate the talent that God gave him and supported his effort. I never said he was a top Getto, drug dealing pro, because of his writings. I thought it, but I’d never put a brother down in public like that. I take more pride in our black men than that. I love them to much to strike them down in their efforts. I’m from the old-school, i saw how hard it was for Amos&Andy to open doors for Mr. Lee and Mr. Perry. Those men took the low road so that Mr.Lee could have a neck to talk through.
    He has not a clue about what we as Blacks had to endure. We fought hard and long only to put up with others like Mr. Lee and his awful jealousy and hate. To do a brother like he did Mr. Perry took hate also. Freedom of speech don’t detail actions like his. Being Black means more that what he displayed to the world. My heart hurts, but i will always love, respect, admire and support Mr. Perry. I’m so proud of the way he carries himself as a black man. I just hope he don’t let Spike Lee spark up no negatives in his life.

  • ruth

    Well, spike lee’s work is entirely different from mr.perry’s… Tyler Perrys work has a christian based foundation, where as spikes work deals with different aspect of african-american culture in history. So, the views are in comparison only a cultural manner.But not in a universal manner. So, lol are you married? kids? Have any other questions just ask…God bless R.Stanley

  • Your Name

    It is truly sad that we cannot uplift one another despite a difference of opinion. I, personally do not care for Mr Lee’s style of directing or producing. I still managed to support my brother because I felt it my duty and yes, even my obligation to do so! Mr Perry has grown by leaps and bounds since his early days, He still has some growing to do, as do we all.Including Mr Lee! It would seem, in my humble opinion, that if anything, Mr Lee would have offered to take Mr Perry under his wing to offer guidance and support. Help him make connections, etc. THAT’S HOW WE ARE TO LIFT ONE ANOTHER UP, NOT TEAR EACH OTHER DOWN!
    God bless Mr Perry in his efforts to live his lifes’ dream and provide a form of entertainment and escape for the rest of us at the same time.

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