For Colored Girls Is Not Enuf: Why Tyler Tanked.

An honest effort, but a missed opportunity

I’ve been accused of hating on Tyler Perry movies.  Guilty as charged.  Tyler has a problem with Black men so this Black man has a problem with him.  I admit to having been a bit curious about how he was going to handle Ntozake Shange’s feminist play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” (economically trimmed down to just For Colored Girls) , but not curious enough to actually go see it.

I was apparently not alone in that thought.   The movie opened in a respectable third place, dropped out of the week’s Top Five films into sixth place in its second week of release and with the new Harry Potter flick opening if FCG hangs on to a top ten finish I’d be surprised.

So what happened?

The reasons For Colored Girls fell hard are many, as the Black film website, Shadow and Act listed.  But in what was a terrible case of overreach the release date was moved from January 2011 to November 2010 to be Oscar eligible. I doubt it even gets nominated in any major categories.

When a movie takes a drop like that it’s done at the box office. Being a Tyler Perry flick means it will make its money back and turn a profit, but Perry wasn’t just looking to make money with this film  He was angling for some Precious like success and acclaim and he’s not going to get either.

Perry has his fans whom apparently believe offering ANY critical perspectives about Perry’s films undermines him. It’s not that Perry has proven to be a barely competent director whose skill set is amateurish at best.  It’s the critics and Black intelligentsia that are undermining his growth as a filmmaker by not lining up in droves to see and praise For Colored Girls.

Each filmmaker has to constantly prove themselves worthy of support.  Should Perry be given a pass from that sort of accountability out of a misplaced desire for racial loyalty?  Are we supposed to simply plunk down our cash for whatever cinematic crap-fest a Black director foists upon us and applaud like trained seals?

It’s not that Black folks can’t handle and don’t want their artists growing and evolving. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Prince, Miles Davis, Will Smith and  Spike Lee, are just a handful of talented individuals who have grown, changed, made missteps and progressed as time passed.

Maybe Perry will eventually join the club, but he seems incapable of stepping up his game as a filmmaker.  Despite his severe limitations behind the camera. FCG has grossed $30 million and made back its budget and will probably clear $50-$60 million. That’s not too shabby even if its’ underwhelming for a Perry flick.

When a movie opens in 3rd place and drops a whopping 65 percent to 6th place the next week apparently, that’s just consumers telling Perry he needs to make a better film.  The masses of Black folks have decided they didn’t want a second helping of this turkey.   Heed the message. Don’t kill the messengers.

I choose not to see Tyler Perry films for the same reason I do not see Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone and Julia Roberts films: They aren’t made for me. For those that are part of the target demographic, I’m not going to stand in their way of buying a ticket. But neither am I going to feel any sense of shame because I don’t.

Dr. Perry and Mr. Madea hanging out.

I disagree that Perry’s audience is so clueless as to not realize Madea wasn’t dropping in for a cameo appearance.  The new character Perry created for Whoopi Goldberg seems to be filling that role.   I am certain the  decision not to title the film  Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls limited its box office appeal.   Perry would have been ripped for superimposing his name on Shange’s play, but he was tackling a difficult project in trying to turn a play full of poetry and music where all the characters are identified by colors, not names and material some 30 years out of date into a feature film.    He needed to press his big advantage:  a firm base of support with Black women.

The first thing he tossed out was Shange’s dozen words title. It was just too damn long to fit on a marquee. Having done that, why not go the route of Stanley Kubrick (yes, a White filmmaker I know) and put your name before the title?   It’s a bit arrogant, but if Kubrick could do it to Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke and Anthony Burgess, Perry could too.

When the biggest name in a movie is the director and not his ensemble of actresses, you better play to your strengths and humility be damned!   Under those circumstances he should have slapped “TYLER PERRY PRESENTS…” on the movie poster.

I’m scratching my head why Perry used his Oprah appearance to talk candidly about the sexual abuse of his childhood but mentioned the movie almost as an afterthought. Men admitting they have been sexually abused is an act of courage and I’ll give him some respect for speaking out, when you’re on Oprah you have to choose between confessing dark secrets or promoting whatever it is you’re selling.

If I’m gloating a bit (okay, a LOT) over Tyler spending Oscar night at home alone wearing Madea’s bra and wig on with a big glass of grape Kool-Aid and a KFC Double Down sandwich it’s because Homey has proven you can’t fool all the people all the time. Just some of the people who keep hoping against hope Perry will ever do anything but infinite variations on the same tired Madea theme.

It’s like gravity: you might not like it but you’re going to have to accept it ’cause you ain’t gonna change it.