Ok. I lied.
Yesterday, I devoted this space to 1000 or so angst-ridden words about why I was tired of having angst-ridden discussions about Tyler Perry, and my fatigue was completely sincere. So sincere, in fact, that I even scheduled a mock funeral for my angst-ridden Tyler Perry baggage, complete with stink bug pallbearers and a tiny coffin I carved out of some spare plywood in the trunk of my truck. (What? Stop acting like I’m the only one who carries a half dozen pieces of spare plywood in his truck. You never know when you’ll need an extra piece of wood)
But, right when I was about to hammer the final nail in the coffin, I watched this from my homegirl Lydia Cotton. Then, I came across this from Demetria Lucas at A Belle In Brooklyn, which led me to this from Natasha at The YBF, and this from Courtland Milloy at The Washington Post—all pieces using For Colored Girls as a means to offer their take on the fact that many black men (and a few black women) strongly feel that the majority of movies recently produced, written, and directed by black people for black people always seem to have the same latent theme: Ya’ll n*ggas aint shit!
Can anyone name a movie that came out recently starring a black man who wasn’t a sociopath? Someone who had a terrific screen presence, like a young Paul Robeson? And he portrayed a character who was complex and fully drawn? Did he respect black women, too?
Anybody saw that movie? I didn’t. But surely it’s out there somewhere, right? An alternative to those Tyler Perry films portraying black men as Satan’s gift to black women? But where is it?
I love challenges almost as much as I love excuses to eat bacon, so I tried to think of a somewhat recent (recent = made in the last 20 or so years) major motion picture featuring a desirable black male character who fit each of the following characteristics:
—was in a healthy, adult, monogamous, long-term (two years or longer) relationship (rules out each of the main characters in Love Jones, The Best Man, Menace To Society, Poetic Justice, Enemy of The State, Drumline, Devil in a Blue Dress, Jungle Fever, She’s Gotta Have It, Mo Better Blues, She Hate Me, I Think I Love My Wife, and Boomerang)
—was in a healthy, adult, monogamous, long-term relationship with a black woman (rules out Hitch, Training Day, Out Of Time, American Gangsta, I Robot, Our Family Wedding, and Hancock)
—wasn’t a 5’6” professional basketball player (rules out Just Wright and Love and Basketball)
—wasn’t actually a real person (rules out Malcolm X, Ray, Talk to Me, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, and Ali)
—didn’t shoot anyone (rules out each of the Bad Boys as well as each of the Lethal Weapons)
—didn’t accidentally kill seven people in a car accident (rules out Seven Pounds)
—didn’t have a criminal record (rules out every black movie ever set in New York City, Atlanta, or South Central)
—wasn’t a porn star (rules out Boogie Nights)
—wasn’t romantically involved with Kimberly Elise (rules out John Q and Diary of a Mad Black Woman)
From my estimation, this leaves us with Cuba Gooding Jr.’s “Rod Tidwell” (Jerry Macquire), Harold Perrineau’s “Link” (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions), Jeffery Sams’ “Kenny” (Soul Food), and the black guy in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (you know, the one who’s responsible for the end of mankind)—not exactly the 1992 Dream Team.
Ok, so maybe this black movies kind of sh*t on black men thing has some legs. Who knew? (Don’t answer that)
Still, I needed possible reasons for this continued underrepresentation, and I managed to come up with four.
1. Movies dealing with black love are generally told from a black female point-of-view
This actually makes perfect (and practical) sense. Women are the target market for romantic comedies and relationship-centric dramas, so it stands to reason that movies focusing on black love are filled with optimistically realistic female characters and cardboard male caricatures. I mean, I don’t exactly see a group of sistas rushing out in groups to see It’s All My Fault, And It’s Probably Not Going To Get Any Better, a screwball romantic dramedy featuring Kerry Washington as “Monica Jenkins”, an Atlanta-area business woman who deals with the realization that, well, it’s all her fault, and it’s probably not going to get any better.
But, as much as I hate to say “white” movies follow the exact same formula, “white” movies follow the exact same formula. In this sense, Quincy McCall is really no different than Mr. Big.
2. There just aren’t that many black movies period
This is also true. There just aren’t going to be that many realistic depictions of black males in healthy black relationships if there aren’t that many black movies to begin with. I mean, if you look hard enough you have your independent fare like Love, Sex, and Eating The Bones and I’m Through with White Girls (The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks), but you’re probably not going to see one of these playing at AMC Loews. Can’t complain about the Cajun wings if all the chickens are dead.
3. Well, you can’t really complain about it because these are realistic depictions. Just take a look around you. For the most part, ya’ll n*ggas aint sh*t. I’ve been trying to tell you! Duh! What the hell did you expect?
Umm, well, moving on…
4. It’s all about the balance
(Generally speaking) We (African-Americans) are relentless masochists, pain-seeking missiles defining ourselves by our struggles, our pain, our collective burdens, and our collective willingness to memorize each unnecessary stanza of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”. This obsession with personal and cultural agony comes out in our art, as we create music and movies designed to share as much as this pathos as possible with as many people as possible.
Considering the well-documented and unabashed misogyny present in hip-hop (and R&B), it makes sense that movies would carry a bit of an anti-male sentiment to even everything out; a delicate harmony of heartbreak creating the perfect balance of “gee, it really does suck to be black” blues.
Anyway, people of VSB.com: Do you think “black” movies—especially ones dealing with black love—have a tendency to paint black men in an unfairly and disproportionately negative light? If so, why do you think this is? Do you agree with any of the reasons I cited? Do you think there’s any truth behind the “balance” argument?
Also, (since I’m sure I forgot about a few movies) can anyone think of any other recent (don’t go citing some Sidney Poiter sh*t on me) movies featuring a black male character in a healthy and monogamous relationships with a black female? If an angst-ridden black blogger saw a Medea in the woods, would a screenplay make a sound?
The carpet is yours.