I’ve always had a bit of a like/hate relationship with 50 Cent. I liked him back in the How to Rob days, and I also liked both Get Rich or Die Tryin and The Massacre. (I still maintain that What Up Gangsta is one of the best album intro tracks in rap history.) Yet, I hated what he and his popularity “represented”—whatever that means—and I wasn’t particularly unhappy to see him fade into musical and cultural irrelevance.
That said, I’ve also always been impressed by his shrewdness. He was basically the Marlo Stanfield of music—so single-minded in his goals that he was able to be pragmatic and clear-headed in a way that others concerned with sentimentally and humanity just aren’t able to be. He showed hints of it in his music, but it would really come across in his interviews. And, perhaps the most astute and self-aware thing I’ve ever heard any artist say was said by him on the subject of Kanye West.
I forgot the exact quote, but a few years ago he offhandedly said that Kanye’s fame was partially due to him. Basically, (paraphrasing) a guy like Kanye—who didn’t “fit” any of the usual rap star archetypes—was able to be so popular because fans needed a counterpoint to people like 50.
Admittedly, I scoffed when first hearing that. But, as I thought about it some more, I couldn’t deny that there was some truth to what he was saying. In order for “G.O.O.D.” (See what I did there?) to emerge, you need “bad.” Without the presence of bad, good just isn’t as relevant or necessary.
It’s a truism that transcends music. Batman doesn’t exist if Gotham wasn’t so thoroughly messed up. Shit, although I’ve been a huge Obama supporter, I realize he may not have even made it to office if the Bush years weren’t such a disaster.
Anyway, this (finally!) brings us to Tyler Perry.
Regardless of how you personally feel about him, you can not deny that there is a sizable percentage of the Black population who consider him to be the bane of all Black existence, and would personally strangle a dozen kittens if it meant he wouldn’t make any more movies.
I do not feel as strongly. In fact, I’m glad he is as popular as he is. I am not a fan, but I’ve come to realize that his pervasiveness has an ultimate purpose besides creating content geared towards an oft-ignored segment of the population, and I think we’re starting to see exactly what that is.
To wit, of the dozens of movies that have been or will be released this year, three of them have received a bit more Oscar buzz than any others.
Fruitvale Station—a “Black” movie with a mostly Black cast and a Black director.
The Butler—a “Black” movie with a mostly Black cast and a Black director.
12 Years a Slave—a “Black” movie with a mostly Black cast and a Black director.
I know there’s still several month’s worth of movies to be released, but I cannot recall a year when the three most critically buzzed-about movies all happened to be created by Black people while featuring unambiguously Black themes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
Would these movies have been made if Tyler Perry didn’t exist? Possibly. Would they have each received the same type of critical acclaim? Maybe.
Still, I can’t help but think that the presence and popularity of Perry has both inspired Black filmmakers to be better and also reminded producers, moviegoers, and critics that Black movies deserve space in their collective consciousnesses. Perhaps his products aren’t everyone’s taste, but their cultural ubiquity may have had an osmosis effect, prompting creatives to push the envelope in a different direction, and prompting fans to demand more nuanced depictions of Black culture.
Does this mean Tyler Perry is a “bad” guy. No. Not at all. Just the cultural antihero we all deserved and needed.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)