I'm sure you've heard the latest. Spike Lee compared Tyler Perry's work to Amos n Andy. During an interview at the 14th Annual Black Enterprise Conference Spike Lee had a few things to say about the black consumer and the black image. In so many words Spike told Ed Gordon: Black folks love to see themselves shuck and jive. Why? Black folks support the buffoonery through ticket sales.
Now let me add my sixty cents. I have been holding a microscope up to the Tyler Perry franchise for quite some time. I certainly think Perry has an unbelievable knack for sketch impersonations and comic timing, but his moral fables and stuttering black men in colorful clothes feel as old as, well, Amos n Andy. There has to be another way to make black folks laugh than recreating babbling black men who wouldn't have sense enough to remember their own name if somebody carved it on their face.
I'm also a fan of Spike Lee. Do The Right Thing changed my cinematic consciousness. School Daze was, in my opinion, one great showcase of Lee's politics and his undying love of the musical genre. However, I could easily complain that he tends to cast lighter-skinned Black and/or Latina women as his black lead's love interests. [Don't get me wrong, light skinned women are beautiful]. But if Spike is blasting Perry about his coonery then he should put the light on his need to please the black palette with lighter skinned beauties. That may sound like an insignificant issue for some, but using lighter skinned love interests only reinforces how the black community defines physical beauty and socio-economic mobility. And, for me, that's just as problematic as a stumbling, mumbling black man.
Tyler Perry has a knack for bringing black folks to the theater and making them laugh at big-breasted mammy-style black women. Spike Lee will fight for racial equality in American cinema, but rarely examines what I see as his own regressive "color" politics. However, Tyler Perry has recently teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to produce quality film. And Spike is about to put magic to his forthcoming James Brown biopic—another example of his struggle for license and equality in Hollywood. In the end, I'm simply saying: Tyler and Lee may exist on opposite ends of the same suspect image median and Lee, well, may not be willing to see that.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.