The Point And Purpose Of Tyler Perry

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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”) 

Where’s The Love Jones?

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***After watching Love Jones again last weekend, I was urged to revisit and revise something I wrote about the film for the Loop21 a few years ago***

Approximately halfway through Love Jones, the iconic 1997 romantic drama centered around a Chicago-area couple, protagonists Darius Lovehall (Larenz Tate) and Nina Mosley (Nia Long) attend a dance together—their first real “date” since a few somewhat contrived situations caused them to momentarily break away from each other. Predictably, the date goes extremely well. The otherworldly connection and chemistry Darius and Nina share is palpable, and, despite any romantic roadblocks (contrived or otherwise or just named “Bill Bellamy”), you know that things are going to work for them.

But, while this date night dance scene’s main purpose was to give the audience a visual segue from Darius and Nina’s short-term separation to their impending romance, writer/director Ted Witcher does something else, something a bit subtler and a bit more poignant. With the vibrant music, colorfully coordinated dance steps, and equally colorful (and equally coordinated) attire, Witcher introduces the audience to the world of Chicago steppin’—a derivative of swing dancing popular in the South and Midwest. Although the scene is only a couple minutes long, Witcher presents this dance phenomenon and the anonymous steppers to us with the same regard, enchantment, and love exhibited when the lens is focused on any of the main characters.

Says the late Roger Ebert:

“There’s electricity when they go on a date to the weekly steppers’ ball hosted by Herb Kent the Cool Gent, who plays himself. Steppin’ is a Chicago dance style that comes out of jitterbug, cooled down, and as we watch this scene we get that interesting feeling when a fiction film edges toward documentary and shows us something we haven’t seen before.”

In the 16 years since its release (damn, just typing that made me feel old as f*ck) Love Jones has gone from underappreciated romantic drama with a banging soundtrack to the cinematic standard for realistic black romance. (Well, “realistic” other than the fact that it featured a bunch of underemployed negros living in lofts…with exposed brick…in Chicago. But, who’s nitpicking?)

And, while the story and the chemistry between Tate and Long are the most memorable aspects of the film, Love Jones is held in such high regard because Ted Witcher was so obviously in love with everything he put into this movie. More than just a drama, it was an ode to Black culture, to Chicago, to music, to movies, to love, to words, to sex; a paean to the possibilities of people not constrained to 140 characters or less. It’s loved and appreciated because it loved and appreciated both its characters and its audience, a trait also found in Soul Food—a movie that, although not necessarily a romantic drama and not as universally praised as Love Jones, shared Love Jones’ love for its characters and their customs.

These movies, and the level of love and exuberance they were shot with, stand in stark contrast to much of today’s Black romantic fare—both at the theater and on the small screen—which seems to be content with browbeating the audience with messages so heavy-handed it feels like you’re being kicked. (Before this devolves into another angst-ridden conversation about all things wrong with Tyler Perry, I do think that Perry loves his characters. But, Ike loved Tina too, didn’t he?) Instead of a peek into a world we may not have been completely familiar with, we’re left with 60 to 120 minute long psychotherapy sessions and self-help pamphlets featuring people who have never existed on Earth, After Earth, or any other planet humans have ever lived on—movies where writers and directors use the screen as a palate to work out their own issues instead of allowing the audience a chance to be vicarious.

Maybe this cinematic shift is our doing. Maybe our expectations have devolved to the point that we wouldn’t be able to handle a Black movie with more love and nuance than ill will and temple knocking. Still, after watching Love Jones again last weekend, I think we’re ready for another one. We just need to find the love needed to pull it off.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

My Tyler Perry Problem (Hint: It Has Nothing To Do With Tyler Perry)

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One of the great paradoxes in life is the fact that the more cable channels you have, the less there seems to be to actually watch on TV. I experienced this a few months back while at my parents, simultaneously amazed by the 700+ channels they have and flabbergasted by the fact that there was literally nothing attractive to watch.

Dejected and still possessing a few hours I needed to kill, I finally decided on Daddy’s Little Girls—the Tyler Perry vehicle starring Idris Elba, Gabrielle Union, and a dozen or so ONs (“Other N*ggas”) with their own Wiki pages. I’d seen bits and pieces of it before, but never had the opportunity to watch it from the beginning to the end.

Now, before I continue, I have to disclose something. You know those self-righteous, uber-Bougie Black people who don’t “hate” Tyler Perry, but kind of sort of think he’s the bane of Black filmmaking? The type that would write a 2000 word long blog post decrying his work, and might shake his head and sigh loudly if his name happened to be brought up in a positive manner while he was at brunch with friends? Well, I am one of those people.

Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I was one of those people until Daddy’s Little Girls showed me exactly why I was one of those people.

The movie itself was unremarkable and ultimately forgettable. This is not an insult, though. Most movies are unremarkable and forgettable. I kinda chuckled at a couple scenes and cringed at some others. On that scale, there is literally no difference between Daddy’s Little Girls and hundreds of other movies I’ve watched during lazy weekends.

I then thought about every other Tyler Perry movie I’ve seen. All (in my opinion) vacillated between “eh” and “eh, this sucks.” These feelings are far from ringing endorsements, but I didn’t hate any of his movies, either.

(Now, I have to say that I haven’t seen Temptation, a movie that may actually be the worst reviewed movie ever. I mean, there have been bad movies before, shitty, awful, cinematic train wrecks, but how many were so bad that people thought they were f*cking dangerous?)

Again, though, this particular form of ambivalence isn’t new for me. I have the same feelings towards dozens of different actors, movies, producers, and directors. That’s just human nature. You’re going to like some things and dislike some other things, but most things are going to fall somewhere in the middle. But I haven’t written articles and blogs about all of those people. I have about Tyler Perry, and the amount of effort I’ve put into thinking about him—someone who falls in the low end of my middle—just doesn’t equal how I actually feel about his work.

It then dawned on me: My “dislike” of Tyler Perry had nothing to do with his work and everything to do with the fact that there aren’t really any alternatives. Yes, you have your Spike Lees and your Ava DuVernays and whoever else you want to mention, but no other Black filmmaker is as prolific and popular. Basically, if he was just another popular Black filmmaker in a sea of popular Black filmmakers, I wouldn’t have thought so badly of him. I probably wouldn’t have thought much about him at all. I was allowing his lack of competition—and how he was received by other people—to not just influence but determine how I felt about him.

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling this way. Not just about Tyler Perry, but other movies, songs, artists, and even people. Basically, the principle—how we think a product should be received in relation to its competition—has a tendency to matter more than our feelings about the product itself.

Even looking back in my own history, I went through the same mental gymnastics a decade ago when formulating an opinion about 50 Cent. I hated what 50 “represented” (Don’t ask me to define that), hated that he was the undisputed king of hip-hop for a three or four year span, hated the fact that he ruined Ja Rule’s career and then turned around and made the exact same type of songs he clowned Ja Rule for, and hated that no one seemed to care about any of that. But…I liked his music (and disliked Ja Rule’s music). What Up Gangsta? is still one of my favorite rap songs.

Just as with Tyler Perry, my feelings about 50 had more to do with his prominence than the actual art he was producing. I actually thought he was “good,” but because he was so popular, too many people thought he was “great,” and this changed my “good” to “bad.”

Although the tone of this piece so far may suggest otherwise, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. We don’t live in vacuums, and sometimes the principle does matter more than the product. At the same time, its unfair to project your own hangups on how art should be on a person who clearly isn’t interested in creating the type of art you think they need to create, and this is exactly what I’d been doing with Tyler Perry. As I stated earlier, if he was merely the 3rd or 13th most popular and prolific Black filmmaker, I wouldn’t have given him any extra (or negative) thought, and it’s not his fault that no one is currently there to counterbalance him.

I’m glad I got over that, though. Now, when done watching Daddy’s Little Girls or Why Did I Get Married again I can finally do what I should have been doing the entire time: Forget about it.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***We ended last week with a bit of roll call. Continuing that theme, I’m going to go down the list and name each of the VSB-ers I met at our 5th anniversary party Saturday. I might forget a name or two, but since my blood-alcohol content level was probably 16 times the legal limit, it’s not my fault.

Wild Cougar (Who engaged me in the deepest drunk conversation about Bougie Black People and Tyler Perry that anyone has ever had)

Tx10inch (Who I refused to introduce to others by his VSB handle. Not secure enough in my masculinity to refer to another man as “10 Inch.” According to me, his name was just “Texas.”)

Soula Powa (Who ended up doing the exact same thing with me he did the first time I met him—at our #threedeez book party two years ago—watching and debating basketball)

CNotes (Whose hair makes me feel like a White woman. Ok. That didn’t come out right. Lemme try again. According to many Black women, White women love to touch their hair. I felt the same way)

Shay D Lady (Who, considering how drunk she was, may not actually be alive right now. 11:14am edit: Shay D Lady has informed me that she is, in fact, alive. Since she’s alive, I have to say that she definitely wins the award for “VSS Most Likely To, By The End Of The Night, Either Have You Saying ‘That Was The Best Night Ever’ or ‘How The Hell Did I End Up In Prison?’…Or Both”)

Cheekie (Percolate deez)

The Sunk (Who gave me beard envy)

Aly (Who doesn’t think I’m very funny. To her credit, I’m not)

Yoles (Who made me see why she seems to be everyone’s favorite VSS)

Keisha Brown (Who I was pleasantly surprised to see again. Didn’t realize she was coming in)

Medium Meech (Who, along with Texas, seemed to make it a personal duty to grind for at least three songs with every VSS. They were definitely the hardest working men at Liv that night, pun intended)

Mad Scientist (Who I think I saw but didn’t get a chance to speak to)

Esa (Who had on some very nice pants)

Sweet Ga Brown (Who helped create a Champ sandwich with Wild Cougar)

Kema (Who was cheery as a motherf*cker)

Again, I was in a Smirnoff-induced haze, so some names will come to me as the day goes on and my memory continues to come back. So, if we met and your name is not here right now, there’s at least a 17% chance that it will be when you hit refresh***

Five Things That’ll Happen If You Don’t Support VSB: The Pilot

Please help us keep these men off the pole

Although I’ve been taught that positive reinforcement is the best way to motivate and inspire, I’ve found that for me, personally, the experience of being scared shitless seems to help best. For instance, nightmares about the jailhouse jelly man are the reasons why I decided not to be a drug dealer (Well, that and the fact that you can’t be a hustler and lactose intolerant at the same time. Can’t be an efficient corner boy if you need to take breaks every 30 minutes to find a clean toilet), and the little jackals running around with cigarettes and open packs of dog food every time I go to Target are why I don’t think I have any kids.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because, while wanting to support us and our project is a noble reason to give, perhaps knowing what would happen if we didn’t receive the necessary support may be a more effective strategy.

With this in mind, here’s five things that’ll likely happen if you don’t support VSB: The Pilot

1. You will die

Now, I realize this is a little misleading. Seeing that all of us are going to pass away someday anyway, you’re going to eventually die and shit whether you support our project or not. But, with all that being said, the fact remains that if you don’t visit our Indiegogo page, you will die. We will too, actually. So, well, support us.

Or die.

2. Lead actors David Hunter Jr. and Leo Breckenridge will be forced to return to their normal jobs (stripping and doing quality control on samples of gluten-free turkey chili passed out at Trader Joe’s, respectively)

Both extremely talented young actors, David and Leo are very much looking forward to being a part of this project. David (who’s playing “Brandon,” the guy loosely based on me), is a Hampton University grad and received his B.A. in Theatre Arts Performance. After graduating, David began performing with the Improv Troupe, “5-6-7-8” at several venues in the DC Metro area including the DC Capitol Fringe Fest and the Improv’s home base, the Washington DC Improv and won several awards for his work.

Since re-locating to Los Angeles, he’s been very busy adding a number of short films, independent feature length films, theatre productions and commercial credits to his resume.

Leo (who’s playing “Andre,” the character loosely based on Panama) began his professional career touring the United States as “Emmett Till” in the critically acclaimed stage production “Anne & Emmett” under the direction of OBIE award winner Robbie McCauley, and then three time TONY award winner Hinton Battle. He went on to play “Duke Ellington” in the award winning film short “U Street.” He more recently made his Los Angeles stage/film debut in the controversial production “TORN: The Willie Lynch Letter.”

Thing is, despite David and Leo’s obvious talents, the adverse economy hasn’t allowed each of them to leave their day jobs yet. This project will do a lot in making that happen, so if you want to keep David off the pole and Leo out of those God-awful Trader Joe’s quality control meetings were they make him sit Indian-style for five hours straight while he samples meat from Youngstown-bred orphan turkeys, support the series.

3. Liz will put a curse on you

I’m still not exactly sure which religion Liz practices (and I’m not sure if she knows either), but I do know that whatever religion it happens to be, it involves curses.

4. Panama and I will organize a fund-raiser/BBQ for VSB Nation in the last week of October, when the weather is still nice enough to have an outdoor event. Except by organize a fundraiser/BBQ for VSB Nation I mean “pretend like we’re really inviting you all to D.C. for a fundraiser/party, when we’re really just gathering you all in one place so we can rob you.”

It would behoove you (and your pockets, wallets, and pride) to believe me.

5. Tyler Perry will remake “Love Jones.” (And “Boomerang.” And “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” And “The Passion of The Christ.” And “Citizen Kane.” And Kim Kardashian and Ray J’s sex tape.)

Look, we’ve already seen how hysterical people got at the mere suggestion that Tyler Perry was going to remake “Love Jones,” but trust me when I tell you that if VSB: The Pilot doesn’t happen, you WILL see Madea and Darius Lovehall (played by Chris Brown) on the same screen. I can’t go into exactly why it’s going to happen — or how I know this will happen — but it will, and you can’t say you weren’t warned by me first.

Scared shitless yet? Good. Now go and unscare yourself, or I’ll track down the jailhouse jelly man and have him guest post this week.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

***If you haven’t already, check out “Signs He Just Might Hate Women” — my latest at Ebony.com, and “Very Smart Brotha Gives Very Smart Dating Advice to a Very Single Mom (Part II)” over at Black and Married With Kids***

And for those folks in the DMV, this Saturday, October 6 is another edition of Reminisce, our all 90s everything hip-hop/r&b/dancehall party at Liv Nightclub in Washington, DC. It’s free before 11pm with RSVP (http://reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) and there’s an open bar from 930-1030pm with no dress code. Come to party, leave to remember. Reminisce. Peep the flyer and FB invite: http://www.facebook.com/events/325601340869364/

The Shit List: The Five Worst Movies I’ve Ever Seen

***Posted in anticipation of “Madea Witness Protection” hitting theaters today, and possibly getting a spot on the list***

I don't believe you, unemployed cop, you need more people

While watching “Why Did I Get Married Too”  the other night, I was overcome with a smorgasbord of different feelings and emotions (amazement, itchiness, pride, embarrassment, and hunger to name a few), but one was a bit more prominent than the rest: regret.

You see, since I don’t really go to the theater that often, millions of people had already seen it by the time I got around to seeing it on cable. And this (“millions of people had probably already watched it“) meant that all of the snarky comments and critiques I had about the hilariously contrived characters, the awkward attempts at “real male dialogue,“ the fisher-price plot twists, Lou Gossett Jr.’s schizophrenic island accent, and Tyler Perry’s airport man switch had probably been discussed, written, tweeted, and blogged about already (case in point), and I regretted that I hadn’t watched the movie sooner so I could have been in on all the fun.

How bad was this movie? Let me put it this way: Being coerced into watching Why Did I Get Married Too is the best get out of jail free card a man could ever have. Like, if you watched it with your girl yesterday and your girl’s birthday was next week but you completely forgot about it because you had been too busy helping your ex-girlfriend paint her kitchen, you could just say “I guess we’re even now” and you would be.

While Why Did I Get Married Too was definitely bad, was it bad enough to crack my list of the five worst movies ever? Lets see.

***For clarity’s sake, in order to make this list, the movie has to have had some sort of expectation of quality. For instance, although I Got the Hook Up and Glitter were definitely terrible movies, they don’t qualify because nobody in their right mind thought they’d be any good. I’ve named this the “Shannon Tweed Tenet”***

Vanilla Sky

Principals: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Crowe, Cameron Diaz

Plot: I’ve seen it three times and I still have no f*cking clue.

Why it makes the cut: Not only is Vanilla Sky the worst movie ever made (Yes. It is. Any other movie you’d put in its place would be wrong. Accept this and move on.), it might be single worst thing ever done in any context. It’s worse than the Potato Famine, the Rodney King verdict, Paul Pierce’s beard, medium rare chicken nuggets, the Tuskegee experiment, Warren G. Harding’s presidency, and the projected future of Antonio Cromartie’s kids. There are plagues with more positive attributes than Vanilla Sky. There are albino cockroaches with more redeeming qualities. Calling it a shitty movie would be an insult to turds everywhere. An aardvark rapes a puppy every time this movie is watched.

Bad Santa

Principals: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mack, Brett Kelly

Plot: Billy Bob Thornton–Santa Claus, a con man, and an asshole–meets the dumbest eight year old on the planet.

Why it makes the cut: There have been worse movies, but Bad Santa deserves special recognition for the potential of what it could have been. There’s no reason in hell why a movie with such a funny and entertaining premise (and funny and entertaining actors) should be so unfunny and aggressively unentertaining.

And, while I’m usually a fan of vulgarity, watching this was like watching a kindergarten choir recite the lyrics to “Put it in Ya Mouth.” Actually, it was worse. It was like watching a kindergarten choir recite the lyrics to “Put it in Ya Mouth” while the 2nd grade student aid is breaking the teacher’s back on the piano.

The Matrix Revolutions

Principals: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, The Wachowski Brothers, Hugo Weaving

Plot: Neo is an unstoppable combination of Jesus, Beatrix Kiddo, and Clyde Drexler. Wait, no he isn’t. Wait, yes he is. (For real this time)

Why it makes the cut: While the series had a great beginning, it ended with two and a half hours of preachy and overproduced pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness. Basically, it was exactly like a Lupe Fiasco album.

Transformers 2

Principals: Michael Bay, robots, and some other motherf*ckers

Plot: Good and evil robots stage a bunch of battles on Earth to see how many different ways sweat can drip off of Megan Fox’s slow-motion bouncing boobs

Why it makes the cut: Along with being completely incomprehensible (During the fight scenes, you couldn’t tell which robots you were supposed to be rooting for, and once you figured that out you couldn’t tell if they were winning. Couldn’t they just have gone shirts and skins or something?) and surprisingly racist, this remains the only movie I’ve ever seen that actually induced physical pain. I left the theater with a migraine, an earache, burning eyes, a bloody nose, and somehow even managed to grow a genital wart.

Why Did I Get Married Too

Principals: A bunch of n*ggas you already know

Plot: …………..

Why it makes the cut: Should have been marketed as a science-fiction flick because it contained at least 25 major scenes and plot points that could have never, ever, ever, ever happened on this Earth we currently inhabit. For the sake of time, I’ll only name three two.

1. Troy’s inability to find a job, despite the fact that he was a f*cking 6’4” black police officer…in Atlanta…with experience!!! Recession or not, do you know how many d*cks a big city chief of police would suck if he knew he could hire a 35 year old 6 foot 4 black cop with experience? Let me answer that for you. seven. Trust me, if you live in a big city, your chief of police and your mayor would definitely suck seven d*cks each to get a person like Troy on their police force. I hope that helps you sleep better tonight.

2. Gavin dying after his $100,000, “specifically built for the race track” car was hit on the passenger side by a truck going 13 miles per hour.

3. The entire subplot around the cellphone password, despite the fact that cellphones don’t have f*cking passwords. While you may need to enter a password if you’re trying to check your voicemail from another line, if you actually physically have the phone, all you have to do is touch it. It’s like sitting on someone’s porch while their door is wide open but begging them for a key. Or something like that.

Anyway, people of VSB, any additions? What are the worst movies you’ve ever seen?

— Damon Young (aka The Champ)

Hey VSBers, your help is needed. Some of my friends at Bohemian Caverns in DC have asked for my help to get the word out. I used to manage at this spot and it’s a second home for me. So when they asked for my help, I couldn’t say no even if I wanted too. So peep game. If you could kindly go and vote for Bohemian Caverns for me, it would be greatly appreciated. The hope here is to help procure a grant to raise money. Voting just keeps Bohemian Caverns in contention to be one of the small businesses that gets a chance to compete for the grant. There’s no obligation or anything aside from the short time it takes to click the link. Thanks in advance. And if you can’t do it, thanks for reading anyway. – VSB P aka Panama Jackson aka Giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirl He A 3

https://www.missionsmallbusiness.com/