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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It’s not called “For Colored Men” for a reason.

It's not called "For Colored Men" for a reason

My daughter saw Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls Sunday afternoon. When she walked back in the house that evening, I said, “Hi. How was the movie?” “BLACK MEN SUCK!” she shot back.

She was kidding. I think.

The Tyler Perry Express slowed down a bit this weekend with For Colored Girls. The three-hanky melodrama grossed $20 million, but that was only good enough for third place behind Megamind and Due Date. Box Office Mojo says polling showed that 82 percent of the audience was female, 87 percent was over 25 years old and 81 percent was black.

But fear not! Perry will slip back into Madea’s padded bra again in Madea’s Big Happy Family in 2011. Hoo-rah.

When I read Perry was associated with this project, I thought it was just another case of a work by a woman being given over to a man to turn into a movie.   Selecting one that had made his mark directing lazy comedies/morality tales seemed a strange choice.  It still does.

I had it mind someone like a Kasi Lemmons or Julie Dash or some Black woman. What do Waiting To Exhale, Beloved, The Color Purple and Precious all have in common?

Stories of sisters catching hell written by Terry McMillian, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Sapphire and directed by Forrest Whitaker, Jonathan Demme, Steven Spielberg and Lee Daniels. What’s wrong with this picture, huh?  Sisters aren’t doing it for themselves.

I wanted to write an article about why Black female directors don’t get a chance to direct films based on books by Black female writers, but no one seemed interested.

Ever notice that for all his supposed clout in Hollywood, Tyler Perry has never raised his game beyond corny melodramas? Perry seems to have problems writing characters for top Black actors. By now shouldn’t he have come up with at least ONE part a Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, or Forest Whittaker would want?

Even Samuel L. Jackson won’t do a Tyler Perry flick and Sam will act in anything.

Here’s my totally amateur theory: Tyler Perry does not like Black men. He’s admitted being molested by one. He hates his father though he takes care of him. I don’t get the feeling he’s had a lot of healthy relationships with men. He has a low opinion of brothers and that’s why he clowns them so much in his wretched movies.

Perry has to be given some credit for making  films for Black women.  It’s  too bad in the process he has to depict Black men as bums, baby-killers, rapists and down-low creepers infecting their women with HIV.

I like this take from Boston Globe movie critic Wesley Morris from his review: ” Perry has been playing a black woman for so long — he’s starred as the armed-and-dangerous Madea in at least five movies — that he practically is one. But black men in Perry’s movie are a source of visceral, physical ache. It’s as if a brother has broken his heart, too. For peace and redemption, he’s turned, as many a woman has, to Shange. How cathartic this has been for him is unclear.”

Thanks Tyler. You’re a credit to your gender. Soon as you make up your mind which one it is.

“For Colored Girls:” Tyler Perry’s Bid for R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Perfect, unblemished skin courtesy of Photo Shop.

I am a Tyler Perry virgin.   My eyes and ears have never been defiled by a Tyler Perry flick.  I have not seen Madea’s Goes to Jail, Why Did I Get Married, Meet the Browns, Madea’s Family Reunion and I won’t be seeing Madea’s Big Happy Family when it’s served up like so much fried chicken for Perry’s legion of loyal fans.

When I read Perry was directing the film adaptation of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (When the Rainbow is Enuf),” that was a palm slap to the head moment.   I’m guessing when Perry signed on as an executive producer for Precious and saw the accolades that were showered on director Lee Daniels, he must have decided, “Hey, I’d like some of that too!”

Perry’s movies are small and cheaply made money makers, but they are critically reviled for the poor writing, direction and broadly-played and stereotypical acting.   What’s a multi-millionaire who sits upon his own entertainment enterprise to do?   Go out and buy a property that has proven difficult to adapt and try to make a “serious film” in a bid for some critical love.

Character posters for the newly titled shortened “For Colored Girls…” (well, at least it’s not “Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls”) to be released on November 5.  No trailer yet, but are you not entertained?

Or are you terrified of what kind of Negro foolishness the director of Madea Goes to Jail might impose upon Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play?   I know I am.  As a play, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (When the Rainbow is Enuf)” was a fiercely feminist work about sex, rape, abortion and other subjects foreign to the typically sweet and sappy crap Perry usually serves up.

Perry usually casts his films with established actors paired with rappers, singers and athletes taking time out from their day jobs.  For Colored Girls is no different with Whoopi Goldberg, Loretta Devine, Thandie Newton, and Kimberly Elise duking it out with Janet Jackson and Macy Gray for screen time.  Mariah Carey dropped out of the production to be replaced by Newton which counts as an upgrade.

Now this is an odd couple if ever there was.

As I have said before,  I have nothing against Perry making movies for a specific audience that enjoys his work.  That audience just doesn’t include me same as the appetite for Woody Allen’s self-indulgent sludge is lost on me.  Based on his résumé,  Perry seems like the wrong guy for this kind of material. This is like the guy who drops the fries at Wendy’s trying to prepare a five-course meal of French cuisine.  My fears seem to be coming true that Perry would blunt the edge of For Colored Girls by making it commercial and safe, two things Shange’s original play was not.

If there’s a saving grace to this projects its Shange’s involvement as the screenwriter.

Some people say movie reviews don’t influence their decision whether to see a film.  However, when you have a director such as Perry who’s made his mark making homey, simplistic and corny comedies and melodramatic morality plays trying to serve up some serious Oscar-worthy bait, it’s best to be skeptical whether or not he can pull it off.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d be happy to be wrong and blown away by Perry’s bid to become an first-tier director.   The fact that he’s immediately slipping back into Madea’s padded bra after For Colored Girls indicates to me Perry isn’t going to stray far from what it was that put money in his pocket in the first place.