Black Women and the Hollywood Shuffle
There's a reason Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels are the ones we see making movies about the lives of African-American women.
Screenwriter Elizabeth Hunter, who co-wrote and served as a producer on Jumping the Broom, doesn't think it's a black man vs. black woman thing. "It's a very reactive industry. When a Precious does well, they say they want more stories about black women. The kind of successes that Perry and Daniels have do open doors."
DuVernay agrees. "I don't have a problem with black men telling stories that deal with black women as protagonists. My problem is that there are only half a dozen that are being made. It's not the man; it's the amount."
Indeed, the numbers are not in our favor. If Hollywood is making only 225 to 250 films per year, 6 percent of which are being directed by women, that means that approximately 14 films will be available for women to direct in general. Where does that leave black women directors, let alone writers? Nowhere, is the answer, particularly when box office receipts don't offset the cost of making a film.
Still, there are those, like Lockhart, who argue that you can't use the box office to measure a film's worth. "We've got to stop giving the box office so much weight. It doesn't speak to film as art. We've got to go back to telling real stories -- and honestly, on the indie side, from Julie Dash on down, the best filmmaking is being done by black female filmmakers."
If black audiences in general and black women specifically are willing to support Perry's films, then they should also support Hamri's films, especially if they want to see more black women making movies and telling stories in Hollywood. Then again, it's not just black female audiences who need to support black women filmmakers. Black women filmmakers need to be stronger advocates for their own projects.
Filmmaker Nzingha Stewart, executive producer of the upcoming film For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, based on the play by Ntozake Shange, interned with director Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) when she was first starting out. Watching Ratner in action taught Stewart a lot. "As women, I kind of think that there is an area where men do a little bit better than us, which is being more aggressive when getting a film made. [Ratner] talked about his projects in a way that women do not."
The process of adapting For Colored Girls to the big screen is one example of what can happen when black female filmmakers try to make movies centered around the lives of African-American women. Stewart is matter-of-fact as she recounts what happened: "I wrote a draft. The draft enabled me to option the script. I started sending it out to actresses, and everybody was really excited. We then took it to a studio. Tyler [Perry] became involved, and now the movie is getting made."
What she doesn't say is this: The blogosphere blew up with outrage when it was reported that Stewart originally had been tapped to direct but Perry pushed her out of the director's chair. Stewart declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding how decisions were made, which raises another issue.