There’s no doubt that Tyler Perry’s work dominates Black film and TV and people are in need of more diverse programming. Tyler’s work, which is often criticized for dumbing down the black experience and reinforcing stereotypes, has folks wanting something different. People want something better and more “positive” images on our screens. Understandably, some are tired of the Mammy character, the hyper-aggressive homophobe or the downtrodden woman.
To show that we are not a monolith, there’s been few efforts recently to present us with different images. Even BET, which has been guilty of portraying black folks in some of the more trifling ways, is trying to do better. The network created shows like “Reed Between the Lines” and “Let’s Stay Together” in the last couple of years with decent buzz. And Hollywood is also trying (just barely), with the release of the movie “Red Tails” (and by Hollywood, I mean George Lucas, but you get the point). When each of these projects were introduced, deep sighs of “Finally! We’re not cooning on screen” came leaping from viewers mouths. But was it too soon?
Before we fist pump too much, we need to keep our thirst for different programming at bay and maintain our critical eye. Shows and films that depict upwardly mobile black folks should not rest their laurels on the fact that they’re “positive.” The absence of stereotypes and cliched characters is not equal to the presence of good work. “Positive” and “good” are mutually exclusive words when describing the quality of art and we shouldn’t be afraid to recognize this.
It is not enough for Black cinema to show us as professionals or to show us in a good light if the work itself isn’t entertaining and well-executed. The writing still needs to be good, and the dialogue should be realistic. The production value should be impressive and the storyline should pull us in. We cannot give these works a pass just because they shatter the currently flawed mold. I’ll give them credit for that though, but I won’t sing their praises if they’re poor in every other aspect.
I’ve noticed that when people bring up things about these so-called “positive” films or TV shows, others take it as some larger critique of diversity in black cinema. Not liking “Red Tails” or “Reed…” does not mean one wants to see Madea on their screen. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of “Reed…” because I see huge flaws in the way its done and the writers haven’t made me care about the characters.
While I haven’t seen “Red Tails,” what I have seen is the backlash about any criticism people wager on the film. I’ve noticed the “Oh you didn’t like ‘Red Tails?’ You must be a Tyler Perry fan” type comments and I’ve wondered how disliking one is directly related to loving the other.
We can support black shows and black cinema without enabling them to get away with just being “positive.” We deserve quality programming and I’d like to think that being critical (not just being a hater) of all of it across the board will challenge Hollywood to do better in the name of entertainment. Positive and good can actually happen at the same time. “Pariah” has done it. Why can’t others?