Friday, April 22, 2011

There Needs to be More Than Just Tyler Perry

One of the major critiques of this year's Academy Award nominations has been the lack of recognition for African American actors and actresses . There was an article by the New York Times that this was a trend.  That article made me think about what this means black actors and actresses in general. 

Tyler Perry hot sexy picsAre there good roles out there?  The answer appears to be that there are, numerous black actors and actresses have been nominated and won Academy Awards.  Last year the film Precious based on the novel Push by Saphire was a great film with an black cast Academy Award winner Mo'Nique and Academy Award nominee Gaborey Sidibe, a black director Lee Daniels  and a black screenwriter (insert name).  The other answer is is that enough?  To list the names of successful working black actors working today is a relatively small list: Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry,  and Morgan Freeman. These are probably the biggest working actors in Hollywood.  There are of course other famous black actors and actresses like Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard, Kerry Washington, and many many more.  Maybe the problem isn't a lack of good roles, but the quantity of roles available.

In the last few years even Denzel has not been landing the quality roles that he used to land.  No that could be partly because of his getting older, but I have not see him in a good film since American Gangster and before that Training Day.

Hall Berry has had flop after flop since her Academy Award win; she has not landed a decent role nor has she starred in much.  Her Academy Award win was historic and she was great in the film, but like with Hattie McDaniel her win has not helped her get better roles.

Will Smith is the biggest box office draw for black actors and actresses, but he has not not had a film released in over the last 3 years, and his Men in Black III project has been postponed because of cast changes.

Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury in all of the Marvel films.  In the Marvel Universe Nick Fury has been both white and black, I give the studio credit for casting Jackson in this role.  Jackson works consistently.

Morgan Freeman also has a lot of projects and does a lot of different films; he recently starred in Red, and was Nelson Mandela in Invictus.  Freeman has the right balance between quality roles and the number of roles he takes on.  Yet at this moment he is one of the only black actors who has this balance.

There are actors and actresses who have growing popularity but Hollywood is not creating box office stars like they used to, and without this bank ability people like Kerry Washington and Don Cheedle are not being used as much as they should be.  Hollywood needs to take notice of the different talent that exists and use them to create projects that will benefit them.

Quantity vs. Quality-What matters more?  In my mind both of these matter, but depending on the audience there are different perceptions of what matters more.  I would like to highlight a section of the New York Times article entitle Hollywood's Whiteout the author Darghis and Scott (2011) stated:

"This retreat from race by the big studios partly explains the emergence of a newly separate black cinema with its own stars (Morris Chestnut, Vivica A. Fox), auteur's (Ice Cube, Tyler Perry) and genres (including tales of buppie courtship like "Two can Play that Game" and of neighborhood striving like the “Barbershop” franchise). Emerging from outside the mainstream and indie world, the prolific Mr. Perry has become one of the most successful directors and producers of any color. Last year he directed a much-maligned adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” Some complained that Mr. Perry had bowdlerized that’s famous feminist work, but he had made it his own, complete with melodramatic flourishes and divas like Janet Jackson."

With this piece of the article the main point is that quantity is not enough and that there needs to be more.  Great works like the poem "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When is the Rainbow Enuf" have been made into melodramatic works that do not capture the greatness of the original work.  I personally thought the performances were great, and that some of them could have been candidates for Academy Award nominations, but I do agree Perry emphasized the melodramatic aspects rather than using the beauty of the original work. 

Tyler Perry has been highlighted as one of the hardest working black men in Hollywood; he has starred in, directed, and produced numerous films.  Tyler Perry appears to control the Universe, (sarcasm noted) but he seems to be the hardest working black man in Hollywood.  Perry has his champions and his critics.  Some people praise him for bringing more stories about black people to the big screen (and television now) while others say he presents maligned stereotypical representations.  Spike Lee another famous black director, actor, and producer has been one of his greatest critics and has cited his viewpoint as setting the black community back.  Darghis and Scott (2011) stated:

"Mr. Lee has been among Mr. Perry’s critics. “We’ve got a black president, and we’re going back,” Mr. Lee said in 2009. “The image is troubling, and it hearkens back to Amos ’n’ Andy.” The philosopher Cornel West has been more charitable (“Brother Tyler can mature”) and last year he put a larger frame around the issue of race and the movies in America, noting that with “all the richness in black life right now,” that “the only thing Hollywood gives us is black pathology. Look at the Oscars. Even ‘Precious,’ with my dear sister Mo’Nique, what is it? Rape, violation, the marginalized. Or else you get white missionary attitudes toward black folk. ‘The Blind Side?’ Oh my God! In 2010? I respect Sandra Bullock’s work, but that is not art.”

So what matters most? The answer is quality and quantity both matter! (I am cheating with my answer of course).  How do you find the balance, is Hollywood afraid to tell stories that are different in a bad economy?  Hollywood is clinging to the predictable action genre to rake in all the money.  Taking risks is not on their agenda and Perry makes Hollywood money, so he is their go to guy.  Perry has done some great things with his films, but he does need to widen his lens in order to capture a deeper perspective.  I think Spike Lee and Tyler Perry both have valuable points of view, but they also need to work towards improving their craft and work towards making stronger films.

What's on the Horizon?  Does 2011 look Better?

This summer the film based on the best selling the novel The Help is being released (movie has the same title as the book).  I am in the middle of the book right now, and the writing is decent and plot is alright, but I am not sold on this film.  The book is told from three different perspectives, which is possible in a book, but the movie looks like it is being told from the perspective of lead white character played by Emma Stone (who is a talented actress).  Creating a film from three different perspectives is difficult but it has been done. 

 I have big issues with the film The Last King of Scotland.  The film uses James McAvoy's character as a plot device (his character is made up) to help tell the story of Idi Amin.  Now, yes this film is based off a book, but I think this is problematic because relying on a work of fiction to write about a real person. 

The Help does bring to light the perspective of black women who worked in the houses of white women and their lack of voice.  This film will highlight some past issues, but I do not know if the material is strong enough to send that message to everyone.

This weekend Tyler Perry has another film that is being released entitled Madea's Big Happy Family.  As I watched the trailer today I thought "all of his movies look the same and have the same themes."  I want to see Tyler Perry look further and do more; he does have interesting point of view, and I think he has stories to tell, but I hope he can push further than the same standard plot and tell new stories and use the clout he has garnered to to take African Americans further in cinema, and do more to develop his own potential.

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