Despite any biased opinions, there really is no denying that both Spike Lee and Tyler Perry make great movies.
Their fame and popularity of their continual movie success is enough to know that both men are talented in their line of work. Both of these film-makers create movies that dominate more toward the black culture of Americans. That’s not to say that caucasian or any other race doesn’t watch or enjoy their movies. In terms of representing blackness and black people in general, I believe Tyler Perry’s body of work does a better job than Spike Lee. Even though Spike Lee’s work is similar in the sense of Perry’s work, in that he focuses towards black audiences, I just prefer Perry’s style over Lee’s.
Throughout the paper I will touch on secondary opinions of criticisms against the two film-makers and why those particular sources conceived their opinion. After the readings and audio for this week, I never knew about the rivalry between Perry and Lee. It was obvious that both of their work was aimed more toward black audiences, but I’m now aware that they each have different styles and opinions in how they portray their work. A big impact of Perry’s work is the character of Madea that he has developed through so many of his films. Madea is Perry dressed in drag as an older-aged black woman.
Madea is meant to be the character of a strong and independent black woman, but the audience still perceives her as funny and entertaining. Lee’s movies, while still deeming toward a black audience, don’t have a particular character involved throughout, but I would infer that the theme of a majority of his movies steer towards having a black man against all odds. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be entertainment without drama throughout the industry. Both Perry and Lee have some harsh feelings towards one another’s work.
Lee once referred to Perry’s work as “buffoonery. ? Lee doesn’t hold his feelings in towards Perry’s films and the Madea character and the stereotypes he feels Perry wrongly depicts in his films towards blacks. Perry responds to Lee’s criticisms with disbelief and profanity towards Lee’s comments of his work. As I have stated before, in a broad sense, both Perry’s and Lee’s work is aimed towards black audiences. In a deeper sense though, I believe both are aimed towards a more specific type of black audience.
After watching countless Tyler Perry movies, where Madea was the main theme, I would infer that his movies are aimed more toward black women. Since Madea is meant to be a strong and independent black woman, more women can relate to her character compared to men. The greatest criticism that secondary material has for Madea’s character is that she is represented as the stereotypical black mamie. These critics believe that that stereotype negatively reflects people’s judgement on the race.
Tyler Perry movies as a whole though play more towards black families and people of all ages, including more teenaged young-adults. Maybe it’s just the humor in Perry’s movies, but when I think of a Tyler Perry movie, I think of families watching it together. I trust that Perry knows what sells in terms of entertainment, and if he’s able to make those people who support his films to keep coming back with the comedy of his work, then he is accomplishing something decent towards representing a success of celebrating blackness. Spike Lee movies on the other hand, play more towards black males. One movie in particular that I can use as an example, is Lee’s movie Malcom X, which is a biographical drama about the famous African-American human rights activist, Malcom X.
I realize that black women may be interested in Lee’s movie just as much black men, but in general, black men are more intrigued as the audience. Spike Lee movies are also meant for a more independent and an adult black audience compared to Perry films. I say this because I think of Lee’s movies to be more mature and deeper in context with his screenwriting. In general, Perry creates movies that are comedies, whereas Lee creates movies that are dramas.
As the audicene of the movie, it’s important to remember that a movie is more than just sitting down and watching it for a couple hours, but rather that the film-makers (Perry and Lee), have purpose behind the films that they’ve created and also that they’re attempting to accomplish something within their work. Both film-makers are attempting to celebrate blackness within their films. I say this because both Perry and Lee make films that are aimed toward black culture and the influence that the black race can watch and relate with. Back to our ongoing class discussion on “what is blackness ? and how there is no one way to define how to be black, I believe it’s important that there are these two popular film-makers who aim to make movies towards a black audience by defining blackness in their own sense. Perry and Lee both represent the style of blackness different within their films, but the one aspect that they can both come to a consensus on is that the black culture is strong and independent in one way or another.
They each demonstrate that concept in ways through character development, family and relationship ties, and the way in which the screenwriting is portrayed in the acting. Whether it’s Perry who’s aiming to make his audience laugh or Lee who’s aiming towards inspiring and reassuring the excellence of the black community, both men accomplish influencing the viewers subconsciously through their pre-meditated film development. Listening to the NPR video where Hilton Als, being a writer in the New Yorker, who’s being interviewed by Allison Keyes, argues against Perry’s film-making and the character of Madea. Hilton creates argument in saying that Perry’s movies and the characters in them demean the black community with harmful stereotypes.
Certainly, this is Hilton’s own opinion, but he feels that the character of Madea is “annoying and grating ? (Als). What I believe he means by grating is that the voice and mannerisms of Madea’s character are irritating and unpleasant to listen to and watch as a viewer in this particular case. The tone that I took away from Hilton’s interview was that he expects the black population to be the intended audience for these films towards pursuing the concept of blackness. Meaning that the race should be represented in a stronger complex, compared to a cross-dressed eccentric black-woman constituting the picture of the black race. What Hilton searches for in watching a dominant black-film is that it’s embraced with intelligence and deeper meaning behind the plot so that viewers can be left with a sense that the black community is powerful and influential, versus being looked at as a joke in the way that Perry makes his films. Keyes goes on to ask Hilton: “why must it be something, you know, deep and serious and sad ? (Keyes), when asking why a black audience is particular watches a movie.
Hilton replies with: “because i think black culture is deep and serious ? (Als). I understand why Als doesn’t believe that Madea should be the most popular standard for what blackness means to cinema, but I do believe that Perry’s intentions aren’t to poke fun at his own race and demean the culture. Even though I’m not the targeted audience of Perry’s and Lee’s films, I can admit that I’ve seen my fair share of movies made by each of them. I’m a comedy movie buff, so I personally enjoy watching films and shows created by Tyler Perry, and I find Madea humorous.
Even as a caucasian viewer, I’ve always believed that Perry does represent the black race in a positive aim, he just does it through a sense of humor. I have also seen movies created by Spike Lee as well. When I think of Spike Lee movies I relate it to the history and influential impact of of particular African-Americans, such as Malcom X or School Daze. To state the movies I have seen created by Spike Lee, which are Malcom X, The Best Man, Kobe Doin’ Work, and The Best Man Holiday. These are movies that I watched just for fun once upon a time in my life and I knew even before taking this class that these movies were aimed more toward a black audience, but I still enjoyed watching them. As for Tyler Perry’s work, I have seen many of his Madea based films, along with his Tyler Perry created shows, such as Meet the Browns.
The most recent Spike Lee movie I watched was School Daze in relation to the discussion of this paper. After watching School Daze and being part of the class discussion of this film, underlying characteristics were pulled out. Lee internalized issues in the black community, such as colorism even within the race. Since this was a predominant black film there were dominantly only colored actors, so the issue that Lee wanted to draw out were the differences in the skin tone among the same race.
Lee used the examples between the wannabes, who were part of the greek-life, and the jigaboos, who praised the African descent. Even though they were the same race, the movie and Lee’s vision had wanted to make point of the differences between the beliefs and practices between individuals. Another topic we discussed on Lee’s film was the issue of sexism in the movie and the opinions of if it were demonstrated throughout the story. Being a woman myself, I believe sexism was an underlying topic in this particular film. The movie seemed that the male was the dominant force and that the young-women were the accessory to the young men.
An example of where it was obvious was after the boy’s party, one of the female characters asked if they should clean up the house just like they always do for the males. It brought me back to the past discussion of feminism and how women are assumed to being beneath a male. Cobb and Jackson criticized Lee in Fight the Power! The Spike Lee Reader, by calling Lee an auteur. Auteur: “a film director whose personal influence and artistic control over his films are so great that he may be regarded as their author ? (Cobb and Jackson). Another criticism that Cobb and Jackson had against Lee was that his films are recognized for their “explicit sexuality and sexism ? (Cobb and Jackson).
An example from School Daze was the particular scene where the female character licked down the male characters hair; which demonstrated branding within the greek-life and sexism against women. Another critic, Lubiano, had in his article: Compared to What was Lee’s presence can overshadow, or make difficult other kinds of politically engaged work. Which I later read that it was particularly a concern of the black cultural production in film-making. Another criticism I liked that Lubiano mentioned was “Lee sees his cultural mission as being a voice for the real ? (Lubiano).
I inferred that Lubiano meant exactly what I was thinking as I was criticizing Lee’s films myself. What I mean by that is how I feel that Lee has a very arrogant complex when creating his movies because he feels that there is only his opinion of blackness, which is to be powerful, deep, and almost masculine. What I believe Lee’s idealogical stance is after viewing School Daze is that audiences of both genders and all races need to wake up to the larger issue and push away from their own ignorance to be conscious of social justice in the African-American culture. Through critical analysis of these two film-makers, Perry and Lee undoubtedly create influential African-American based films. With Lee creating films that introduce a distinct, historicized, African-American point of view that reference actual historic or contemporary events.
Whereas, Perry’s films introduce a more comedic and family approach toward an African-American point of view. I stated that I personally enjoy Perry’s approach toward film-making more than Lee, but I do also respect Lee’s approach towards bringing out real-life themes in the black culture. The criticism that I take away from Lee’s style is the way in which he lets the male characters dominate, and how lack of women’s power or influence is depicted. Even though Perry’s films seem to stereotype the culture of African-Americans, I believe it still depicts the strength that the race possesses in real life. Madea’s character represents someone who is independent, with wisdom, genuine love, and a strong backbone of beliefs that is capable of depicting the race as a whole.
I don’t believe that Madea only represented the women in the African-American culture, but the males as well. What I believe makes both Perry and Lee’s visions so different is the background of their upbringings. I believe they were each inspired by their own personal experiences when creating the ideas in their films. That’s not to say that one or the other is right or wrong in the way they represented blackness within their work, but it’s important to realize the issues and influence they’re attempting to accomplish out to the audience.
Works Cited:Als, Hilton. “Mama’s Gun: The World of Tyler Perry. The New Yorker, April 26, 2010. Cobb, Jasmine Nichole and John L.
Jackson. “They Hate Me: Spike Lee, Documentary Filmmaking, and Hollywood’s ˜Savage Plot. In Fight the Power! The Spike Lee Reader, edited by Janice D. Hamlet and Robin R.
Means Coleman, 251-72. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Lubiano, Wahneema. “But Compared to What? Reading Realism, Representation, and Essentialism in School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and the Spike Lee Discourse.
In The Spike Lee Reader, edited by Paula J. Massood, 30-57. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008