When a married father of three put together an animated video as a satirical take on what black women want out of a relationship, his modest hope was that it would bring a little traffic to his online radio show. He didn't anticipate that the three-minute YouTube clip, called "Black Marriage Negotiations," would garner nearly 500,000 views, spawn a number of copycats and turn into a flash point over the intensely sensitive topic of black marriage and relationships. Darroll Lawson, 40, an information-technology consultant living in Atlanta, created the video to drive traffic to his website, PhilosoG, where he and his friend Billy Briggs talk about "empowering men to empower families."
But since the launch last month of his animated video, which features a professional black woman ticking off a list of outrageous relationship requirements to a bewildered black man, Lawson says that he has received offers from Hollywood, been approached by ABC's The View and conducted interviews with Essence, radio host Tom Joyner and the Associated Press.
The attention has helped Lawson promote his show, and he hopes it will help him find a publisher for a book addressing the same issues confronted by his video. The Root spoke with Lawson about his inspiration, how his wife — who is black — reacted to the video and his thoughts on Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls.
The Root: How did you get the inspiration for the video, considering that you are happily married with three children?
Darroll Lawson: I was single and I was dating, and these are things that I heard. If you turn on popular media, there is a consistent message [of materialism]. Watch Chilli [of TLC on her VH1 dating show, What Chilli Wants] going through her outrageously irresponsible standards she had for a male. You have your Desperate Housewives, again material driven. A lot of that [materialism] doesn't end at "I do." In some cases it escalates. That mentality spills over into the marriage. The woman in my video, when she gets married, she's going to be that and then some.
TR: Are you working on a version of the video focused on men?
DL: The thing is, we've heard the narrative on that. There's no ammunition there. They're about to come out with a movie called For Colored Girls, and there's only one black male who's positively portrayed, and even then he's positively portrayed because he's in a position of submission to women's emotional changes.
TR: What was your wife's reaction to the video?
DL: She thought it was funny. But since then she's literally had to go to battle with her family — her mother, her sister. I've been called a misogynist. On the good end, I've gotten a lot of support. Nothing in between — people either love it or hate it.
TR: What about the women on your side of the family?
DL: The older, more wise and sage ones have said thank you for exposing the issue of the much maligned black male. My mother is obviously very supportive. But some were fairly angry. The ones who didn't think it related to them were fine with it; the ones it may have resonated with on some level took issue.
TR: In what spirit should black women take the video?
DL: First they should understand that I love black women, but there is a problem. This is more of a warning [to] look where we are headed. We are headed toward extinction and disastrous outcomes for our community.
TR: Did you intend it to be comedy first, primarily satirical?
DL: Absolutely. It's hyperbole for sure, but the opposite is oversimplification. We [need to] come somewhere in the middle, because believe it or not, the answer [is] in the lunacy.
TR: What have you heard from men?
DL: It's probably like 99.9 percent agreement. I haven't had one man disagree. I have had some men say, "I don't have that problem, but I know it's true."
TR: I sense that there may have been a generational divide between the responses you've gotten, with older women reacting differently than younger women. Is that right?
DL: Absolutely. I was really trying to interweave this notion of feminist theology. It's interesting that a lot of the steep decline [in black marriage] really occurred after the [initiation of the feminist movement]. So older women who weren't necessarily a part of that, like the younger women are, tend to be more receptive.
TR: Did you draw any inspiration from your own marriage?
DL: Absolutely not. My wife is very supportive. We have a very loving relationship, [but] we have heard for ages how trifling men are. Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Pearl Cleage, Waiting to Exhale — all these things position men poorly. There was a dearth of any kind of criticism leveled against black women, and as soon as you do it, there's this public outcry like, "How dare you?" It almost becomes a form of censorship, and men are feeling it. In part — I don't know how large — it is affecting families and affecting men leaving their families because they don't have an outlet. They just run because they can't deal with it.
TR: What do you say to women who feel the video was too negative or mean-spirited?
DL: Look at the example of black male high school graduation. We all know men who have graduated [from high school], but it doesn't stop us from talking about the increasing number who aren't. And we know all black men aren't on the down low, but it doesn't stop us from talking about that phenomenon because it is something that needs to be dealt with. Certainly it is a negative depiction, but if it's the truth, you have to deal with it.
TR: Has it surprised people that you're a 40-year-old, happily married man and not a bitter 24-year-old with a grudge?
DL: It sure has. Matter of fact, I think it's lent some credibility to it, especially with the women. Everybody thought I was another angry black man. I'm not angry at all. I love my wife, love my kids, and we have a great family.
Topher Sanders is a newspaper reporter who is shopping his first novel. He and his wife live in Jacksonville, Fla.