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.

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10 thoughts on “For Colored Girls Is Not Enuf: Why Tyler Tanked.

  1. Mmm… an interesting analysis, but not necessarily a good one (though you do make some very valid points). My question though, is this: how exactly does one construct a theory of why a movie “tanked” … WITHOUT ACTUALLY SEEING THE MOVIE? Any such analysis is incomplete at best. This is especially true if one is attempting to evaluate his growth as an artist (or lack thereof).

    How can anyone take your critique seriously if you’ve taken time to research the numbers it did at the box office, but didn’t hear a word of dialogue? That’s like… that’s like… that’s like me criticizing your article after only having read the first paragraph.

    While it’s true that this film just might suck, you have to give the artist the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it tanked because it was an honest look into the lives of black women that American audiences aren’t ready for yet (I know, I’m stretching a bit here, just follow me).

    Without seeing the film, what do we know? Well for one, we know that well-crafted, quality films do not generally equate to box office success. “The Hurt Locker” ($48,612,915), last year’s best reviewed film and 2-time Oscar winner certainly didn’t do the numbers that “Grown Ups” did ($270,019,587). And the latter DEFINITELY sucked. Any serious dramatic film with an African American cast is a box office gamble – even if you’re Tyler Perry.

    I’m not saying you have to pay for ticket and officially “support it”, but any attempt to discredit the artist without at least one viewing smells of hate for hate’s sake (yeah, I said it). At that point you’re just affirming his fans’ suspicions of “undermining” him. It further perpetuates the problem of honest criticism being written off as just another attempt to tear down Perry’s dynasty. I’m no TP fan myself, but I certainly can’t speak a word about why this was a bad idea to begin with until I’ve actually seen the film and broken it down.

    • Mmmm…seems though you’re taking it very seriously. At least five paragraphs worth of seriousness 🙂

      Did you miss the part where I said, R. Poole I don’t patronize Tyler Perry movies? It’s pretty much for the same reason I don’t see the Saw stab ’em and slab ’em flicks: I’m not the target demographic and I’m cool wit it. I’m not a film critic (though I have been one for a newspaper), and while I freely admit critiquing a movie I haven’t seen based upon a play I have seen is standing on shaky ground, please note I’m not criticizing the movie. I’m criticizing the odd choices made such as choosing a director with no track record of handling such difficult material and who is often singled out for his lack of professionalism behind the camera.

      I’m well aware that simply because a movie doesn’t make a lot money it does not follow it must be a total failure. Some of my best-loved movies were disappointments for the bottom line. But when the movie both underachieves at the box office and underwhelms the critics it’s likely to be cast into a limbo somewhere between the slob comedy of Grown Ups and the David-slaying-Goliath of The Hurt Locker denying the overrated Avatar a Best Picture Oscar.

      I’m not telling anyone to treat Tyler Perry’s melodramatic mush like the toxic waste it is. It’s a free country and Perry influences a lot more folks by accident than I do on purpose. I’m not so much attempting to “tear down” Perry’s dubious dynasty (dressing up in drag, thumping the Bible and waving a pistol isn’t much of a dynasty , but there have been some impressive ones built upon far less, I suppose). I do find it interesting you take pains to say you’re not a fan of the man, but your arguments read pretty much chapter and verse from the Stop Picking On Tyler Perry! playbook. Trust me, I’ve heard ’em all.

      You go see the film, break it down and get back to me on that, okay? Me? My take is life’s too short to waste it on bad movies by inept directors.

  2. Like you, I haven’t yet seen the movie despite glowing recommendations from some women whose opinions I respect. I will probably catch a bootleg copy or wait until the legal dvd comes out in a couple of months, rather than pay to see it. I’m not a TP fan either, but in Perry’s defense he fills a void on screen for Black America, in that we as a people are starved for Black cinematic images.

    Seems to me the last time we had anything approaching what Perry offers was called Blaxploitation. The same argument erupted about which images were good and which were bad and which we should accept and which should be rejected from a community standpoint. I know most of us were just happy to see Black people on screen.

    Perry’s films are harmless and if the Black intelligentsia were honest, they would admit that some of Perry’s minimally drawn characters do strike a stereotypic note of truth. A TP film is for entertainment and a good box of popcorn.

    I think we take him way too seriously. My main problem is that we have little else from which to choose. TP stands alone, pretty much.

    There are good films out there with excellently drawn Black characters. You just have to seek them out. It will be that way until we start making our own movies like TP or Spike Lee-who with the exception of Inside Man, has yet to learn how to finish a story.

    My hesitation to see For Colored Girls also comes from the fact that some works should not be made into movies. FCG is one of those works, that should be left on stage or witnessed in live performance.

    • Hmm… are you calling me an “in-the-closet” TP stan (pun intended)? Did you read the part where I said I’m no TP fan myself? Oh wait, you did… sooo that’s really all I’ve got to say about that.

      Me? I’m a filmmaker, and that’s the reason I take this seriously. I may not agree with what Tyler Perry puts out, but I definitely will go to bat for him and any other artist who has to defend his work against folks who criticize it without even seeing it. That’s my gripe. That’s my bone to pick.

      Again I say you only hinder LEGITIMATE criticism of this guy’s work when you fail so poorly at doing all the research. Saying a certain type of film is not your cup of tea is certainly understandable. I’m not a fan of torture porn or melodrama either. Writing a 16-paragraph critique on “why it tanked”, on the other hand takes some nerve.

      I mean it’s funny that you say, “My take is life’s too short to waste it on bad movies by inept directors.” Yet somehow you dedicated time not only to write a 16-paragraph diatribe about a film you ‘don’t have time for’ but to answer comments about it. Where are your priorities?!

      The Shadow and Act site brought up legitimate critiques in 5 concise bullet points… AND they took the time to see the movie. That’s the difference between valid criticism and what you’ve presented here.

      • Shadow and Act is a movie review website. This is a blog. Do you really need me to explain the difference between the two?

        Here’s where my priorities are: right here stating my opinion. If you agree with it, fine. If you disagree with it, that’s still fine. Maybe you should seek out blogs whose perspectives about Tyler Perry mirror your own? I got nothing for the brother. I’m not trying to convince you or anyone else of anything. For example, you say Perry is an artist? I think he’s a hack. The three most abused words in the American lexicon are “genius,” “celebrity” and “artist.” If everyone is an artist because they own a camera , the term is so watered down as to be meaningless.

        I am amused though, at this self-righteous outrage where you throw around the word “legitimate” so cavalierly. You keep using that word. I do not think you know what it means. Comparing my critique with that of Shadow and Act’s doesn’t invalidate my own. Though you do seem to find it legitimate to rail and flail against it.

        Apparently, you keep missing the point that I never claimed to be reviewing a movie I have no intentions of seeing. I’m reviewing the process that put Tyler Perry behind the camera trying to helm a project way above his skill set. Perry excels at corny melodramatic soap operas. The complexities of human relationships told from a Black feminist perspective is totally beyond him. It showed and that’s why For Colored Girls is dying a quick death at the box office. It doesn’t take “nerve” to point out why it tanked. It just takes an open mind and a capacity to handle unpleasant facts. Something I wouldn’t expect from someone who says because they share a profession with Tyler Perry they’re predisposed to defend him. That hardly makes your opinion any less biased than mine.

        You might not like my conclusions but you can’t argue with the facts…though you persist in trying. 😦

  3. Mr. Winsbush,

    Let me start by saying you misspelled the name of time Oscar winner and recent Tony Award winner, Denzel Washington in your article.

    Critiablilty? Not so much.

    That being said, “Red Tails” will be a film you a will enjoy appreicate as a Black man.They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

    Some due diligence is required…might I suggest Google. (Helps with the spelling of the names of actors too!)

    -Elaine

    • Thanks for the heads-up, Elaine.

      Would it be equally picky of me to point out you misspelled my name as well as “appreicate?”

      And is there really such a word as “Critiability?”

      Yes, you might suggest Google. Might I suggest you try it first?

  4. Slow down, bruh… Nobody’s “railing and flailing” against anything (I don’t even know what that phrase means). This is merely a debate… on the comments section of your blog. Take a deep breath and relax.

    Let’s look back at would you said:
    It’s not that Perry has proven to be a barely competent director whose skill set is amateurish at best.”
    A valid point based on his past work (see, I told you you had valid points – good job). However, critics also generally agree that he has improved with each film. Without seeing his latest work, your assessment of his skill set lacks credibility (especially given the fact that you are discussing his career in reference to his latest work).

    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?
    Here you imply that his latest film (we can agree that it’s a film right? okay, just making sure we’re still on the same page) is a “crap-fest” like those prior. Again, a statement that lacks credibility. How do you know it too is a “crap-fest”? You haven’t seen it.

    It’s not that Black folks can’t handle and don’t want their artists growing and evolving… Maybe Perry will eventually join the club, but he seems incapable of stepping up his game as a filmmaker.
    A positive thought… but alas, an incomplete one as you don’t know whether or not he’s stepped up his game as a filmmaker. Why? Because you haven’t seen his latest film.

    and finally…

    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.
    A statement about box office drop-off that is generally true and one I could probably live with… IF it were backed up with some type of evaluation of how what was promised in the marketing of the film failed to live up to what was actually presented on screen. But not having seen the film you’re not fully qualified to present such an evaluation (sorry).

    Again I think most of your article makes very valid points and provides some very very interesting insight into the way in which films are marketed… I just find it incomplete.

    Now for a second, let’s forget that we’re talking about Tyler Perry and break things down simply. It’s obvious that your feelings about the man are clouding your judgement. Let’s forget about the term “artist” and instead use the term “filmmaker” (I mean we can agree that a ‘filmmaker’ is an individual who makes films, right?)

    In essence it’s not about who the filmmaker is (doesn’t matter)… It’s about the principal of analyzing the success of a work without consideration for the work itself.

    Again you analyzing why this movie “tanked” without having seen it is essentially the same thing as me writing an analysis of why your blog isn’t popular without ever having read a word of it. Would you take my opinion seriously if I took 16 paragraphs to assess your career as a writer / the popularity of your latest blog post if I only gauged it off the comments on Facebook? No. That would be ridiculous.

    As far as “self-righteous outrage”? Now you’re just flattering yourself. Trust me, I’m good. I enjoy debate. It’s as simple as that. I think it’s healthy – especially within the Black community. I encourage independent thought as I think it makes us stronger as a people. I do, however have an issue with people posture themselves as authorities without taking the time to do essential research. As a journalist I would think you of all people would know how important this is before asserting your opinion publicly.

    • This running dialogue is rapidly reaching it’s expiration date, Mr. Poole, but I’ll indulge you just a little bit longer and then I’m pulling the plug.

      I’ve repeated to the point of tedium that I have not seen the movie, do not want to see the movie and have no intentions of seeing the movie. I do not give a damn about the movie. I am writing about the reasons why the movie failed in its lofty ambitions (namely, get Tyler Perry an Oscar nomination or two) This should be an established fact now and does not need to be mentioned again, okay?

      I’m not going to get into a serve-and-volley quoting and challenging your points. You have not presented an cogent argument against the facts behind the failure of For Colored Girls. You are merely challenging my opinion. I don’t mind having my opinion challenged, but to what end, Mr. Poole? You are not changing your opinion and you certainly are not changing mine.

      Whether or not you can “live with” my analysis isn’t important. So is trying to assess my career as a writer or the popularity of my latest blog post. When I am writing for a print or online publication, I care about those sort of things. When I am just riffing on something on my personal blog, I don’t care at all. It’s just my opinion and fairness, balance, objectivity or any of that other stuff I adhere to when I’m writing something as a journalist is strictly optional.

      I don’t have to be fair, balanced, or objective when I’m writing on my blog. All I do care about it getting my point across. You can take swipes at me if you liek Mr. Poole, but while you many enjoy a debate you should find a way to engage in it without personalizing it. I’m not familiar with what you’ve done as a filmmaker and if you think you have an understanding of me as a journalist based upon a blog post or two, let me assure you that you do not.

      I can take seriously a critical analysis of where mine went astray. But when you try to make snide cracks like “people who posture themselves as authorities” or “you of all people would know” I tune that static out. It’s not analytical, helpful or useful. It just becomes a whizzing match at that point and if that’s what you’re going for here, I’m not with that program.

      • Officially expired. Poole out. Some parting thoughts:

        I sincerely apologize if you interpreted my analogy as a personal attack. That was not my intention. I was merely trying to provide a metaphor for you to clearly understand the absurdity of your approach.

        My intention was never to “present a cogent argument against the facts behind the failure of For Colored Girls.” I don’t have an issue with the facts or even your opinion. I have an issue with the way you reached your opinion.

        I brought quotes from your post into play to highlight the basis for my argument. Again your conclusion is not what I have an issue with (you may be right for all I know)… it’s your approach. I think it has a major flaw. I’ve said that from my first comment on.

        In regard to “snide cracks,” please realize that you are certainly guilty of the same. Realize that though I did take offense when you implied that I lacked “an open mind and a capacity to handle unpleasant facts” I refused to take the bait and instead stuck with issues at hand. I would have appreciated you doing the same.

        In closing, I don’t know why Colored Girls failed. I have never claimed to know. I find it to be an interesting phenomenon. I came to your post after many many recommendations from friends on Facebook. I came thinking I’d get more insight into why it did. I did receive more insight. Thank you for that. I just find your analysis to be incomplete.

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