Thanks to Karu Daniels for this content. Actress Gabrielle Union was commenting on the Tyler Perry-ization (without mentioning the latest meal ticket of white TV and film producers) of black film...if there is such a thing as "black film" anymore in the new Hollywood. The stuff out now makes Blaxoploitation seem quaint. It has become big budget minstrelism, chitlin circuit cliched tripe set to digital video or celluloid...and we of course have eaten it up. Morris Chestnut's never had much range as an actor. Come on now, folks--he's Rickie from Boyz in the Hood over and over again...even in comedies. Gabby's got the ability to emote as well as the ability to show cheesecake. That's how Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, et al showed how you go from T& A to cinema grand dame.
So g'won Gabby. We'll turn to into a Cosby-ite yet, and let's pray black writers will show some backbone as well (though I'm not holding my breath): "I'm sure I could call Morris Chestnut and we could do eight more movies, and we'd be totally happy, our bills paid. But am I growing as an artist? You can't take just any job ... if you do take any job it becomes painfully obvious once the thing comes out. People are like, 'Whew, she needed money.'"
Yet most of her roles have been in silly movies. Unless she's a female hip hop star she's not going to get any roles in any "serious" show.
But Morris is FINE. There are plenty of bad white actors who are fine.
Perhaps it's me but what's the beef with Tyler Perry? I'll be the first to admit I don't care for his plays or his sit-com, but I like his movies. These aren't artistic pieces that will shock and awe the members of the Academy or the jury at Cannes. He knows this. They are fluff meant to provide temporary relief from the harsh world. What's the harm in that?
Second, I love Gabby but I have to tell her to slow her roll. Does she want to be a movie star/celebrity or does she want to be an actress? I would think with the money she makes from B movies she could start her own production company and develop more of the type of projects she wants to see and be seen in. No they won't be big budget films but independent pictures would show she can be more than a pretty romantic lead.
Is she doing stage work? I'm not talking about a Talbott or Perry traveling stage production but real plays with seasoned thespians.
Here's something. Is she writing? Is she reading and optioning stories that interest her?
I have a sneaky suspicion that she isn't. It's hard to be sympathic. Her foot is in the door but I don't think she's willing bite down on her bottom lip and knock that bastard off the hinges.
When a well reviewed movie like TALK TO ME tanks at the box office it becomes even more difficult to get anything that is not a broad comedy made. Once in a blue moon you might get an "uplifting movie" like the GREAT DEBATERS. Why can't we have contemporary films with black folks that feature well developed, interesting, characters?
I worked on the first movie Gabrielle was in. I think it's great she wants to challenge herself but I don't remember hearing anything about her doing theater, quality indie films or anything.
None of us can sit around and wait for great roles/projects to come our way. We have to be proactive esp. in this business.
Once the writer's strike is over I'm going to pitch a movie featuring Miss New York and Flavor Flav. I kid, I kid.
I think the problem with Tyler Perry and the other mindless stuffis that it has become the norm and blots out everything else. I think that is was Nat Turner is saying. There is nothing wrong "escapism" every now and then, but when escapism is the norm I have no problem saying that this dumbs us down.
Gabrielle is deluding herself however because the reality of this entertainment industry is that dumb rules, and it sounds a little bizarre when she makes statements like this and yet makes the movies she does. Halle Berry has a production company too and yet doesn't do a thing with it. If she won't, then we cannot expect Gabrielle to do the same.
I'm not a Halle fan but she has exec produced two movies through her production company, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" and "Lackawanna Blues."
Point 1: Berry also optioned the life stories of Phillipa Schuyler, Tierney Cahill and Doris Payne. I'm not sure if these will result in movies but at least she has projects. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but Gabes does spend a lot of time creating buzz, being seen, and hosting parties for cash. How much time does she spend on her own projects?
Point2: The reason "escapist" entertainment is so prevalent today is because of the culture and times in which we live. I'm not a cultural antropologist or professor of literature, but I would think in most troubled times, in times of uncertainty, there were comparable forms of mindless entertainment. So it's not surprising that "escapist" entertainment is so popular.
Point3: If high-brow and "mid-brow" (LOL) authors are so concerned about the dumbing down of the population, why don't they agressively market their books, movies and plays like street lit authors and Tyler Perry?
Just something to think about.
I agree with most of the points you make, lele19106. However, I beg to differ with your third point. Authors of quality literature projects get left in the dust when agents, publishing companies and film companies realize who is making all of the money. The Tyler Perry type project gets greenlighted faster and promoted more agressively because for some reason they make tons of money. People who choose to go a different route have to work much harder and with fewer resources to get their work out there. Look at all of the authors who were honored at Hurston-Wright. Do you find many of those authors on the Essence best sellers list? Here is just a sampling of what is on the December Essence Paperback list:
Thong on Fire
Look at our own Mr. Chambers. With two novels under his belt, one in the works, a graphic novel in the works, countless interviews and he teaches writing at a top university! He (and many other fine writers) have to wrestle with their publishers to get their work out there. The scales are not balanced, and I think that this is a perfect example of the fact that we are well on our way to "Idiocracy".
Speaking as man whose wife and stepdaughter loves the "thug books" and erotica, I just can't say anyone would respond to a "mid-brow"(?) author hawking his/her books on the street corner, or rolling up into a beauty shop (or my barber's!!!) with softcover copies of some novel about a boy who grows into a man by running away to join a Jim Crow circus in 1937 (I just made that up, y'all...I don't care if you steal it because nobody would publish it--thus making Professor Chambers's point!) or a historical account of the Buffalo Soldiers fighting the Apaches and the Moros in the Phillipines. White people have even more low-brow sh#t, but they also have more people who are willing to buy this stuff, or go to the movies like Sundance or Cannes festival films. Even among our so-called "edjumicated" folk, our tastes are pretty bad.
Halle Berry may have optioned some books, but do you see her trying to do anything with it? No. It's about money. No one ever went broke trying to peddle braincandy to masses, rather than good entertainment. As for the escapist comment, I will channel my hero Massa Chambers and anticipate his response: The Romans had huge orgies of flesh and murder as their escapist entertainment and look what happened to them (thank you in advance, Chris). It only serves to perpetuate the nonsense by coming up with excuses. Which is why I commend Gabriele Union for at least making the comment, even though she's done nothing to follow through, as one commenter here stated. It's a start.
I love Gabrielle Union.
As for Tyler Perry style movies. I guess they're mostly escapist flicks about the lives of bougie black people.
It is nice to see movies made for black people by black people, but we can do better than this.
lance williams, sr:
Why wouldn't readers respond to mystery or suspense authors selling his work in barbershops, beauty shops, street fairs or festivals? Who decided that it's beneath literary authors to hustle and sell books?
Have you considered that the glut of street lit and erotica has a lot to do with aggressive selling tactics of the authors?
I'm not saying everyone should sell books out the trunk of their cars (like street authors and gasp, John Grisham with a Time to Kill), but in order to expand the choice for readers, new strategies are going to have to be implemented not by publishers but by the authors themselves.
i don't think independent writers hawking their books themselves in small bookshops, newstands, and even beauty parlors/barbershops is such a crazy idea. Whatever you can do to get your work out there...
If you were to go into barbershops and beauty shops, you'd have to repackage the trade paper covers to look more lurid and ghetto, sorry. Otherwise no one would buy them. Do you really think James Baldwin could haul a box of Go Tell it On the Mountains into Salon Flava on MLK Boulevard in any town with nothing less than somebody resembling Fiddy cent on the cover, with a pistol in one hand and bunch of ass in the other? LOL This is a tough thing to say, but let's stop giving credit where credit isn't due! LOL
I think the "aggressive" marketing works because the product is cheap in so many ways. So maybe thatmeans "mid-brow" is dead? Look at retailing. You got Nordstrom and you got Wal-Mart. The folks in between are the ones loosing.
I think Gabrielle Union needs to make a decision whether she wants to be Nordstrom, made in the USA, or Wal-Mart, made in a sweatshop in the Quandong Province of China. I would argue that more folks are getting educated as to what's good and lasting, and maybe you can build an audience from there and hope the rest of the folk who dig Thong books and movies--or the CW network on TV and House of Payne--will catch on?
Isn't that worth a try, rather than just accepting the status quo and saying hey just sell better? I think we should take bets as to the new Denzel-Forrest Whittaker-Oprah film coming out on Christmas and how many African Americans truly support it, versus how many want to see Morris Chestnut clown himself.
Wait a minute, anon. Black people read The Color Purple before the movie and that book didn't have Celie and shug on the cover in the 70-1 position. These weren't highly educated people. They were just folk interested in a story about black women.
Wait. We read Sula, Tar Baby, The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon before Oprah introduced Morrison to tne mainstream.
The first two books by E. Lynn Harris were sold in beautyshops and out of the trunk of his car.
Funny we should discuss this today
The Free Library of Philadelphia is sponsoring a street lit discussion panel tonight with Terri Woods, Solomon Jones and Shannon Holmes.
I'm sure sparks are going to fly.
My wife just hooked me on a chick-ish indie Indian film by the greta Mira Nair called "Namesake" (Nair who wrote and directed Mississippi Masala featuring Denzel, and films like Kama Sutra and The Perez Family). We were wondering why you don't see too many African American flicks like this. I saw one on Starz called "Our Song" starring a VERY young Kerry Washington. That's it. No well done well written visceral black films that don't have to do with big pimpin'. Why is that? Blame Mr. Charlie...or our own bad taste and materialistic bling mindset. Interesting ends of the this continuum, eh?
The novel THE NAMESAKE was very moving. I loved the movie as well.
I read a lot of scripts for my job. It's pretty depressing.
You mean Jhumpa Lahiri's Namesake, the novel about second-generation Bengali immigrants forced to live in smallish apartments in prime Manhattan locations as they work their way up the corporate ladder, who rebel against their parents by taking elective courses in French literature and legally change their quirky cross-cultural first names to traditional Hindu ones? Why not just watch some reruns of Michael J. Fox in Family Ties?
The only reason that "Stagolee Buys Some Stamps" gets over is because of the current interest (dare I say, goodwill?) in fiction with some different points of view.
The National Book Critics Circle just polled 500 authors (including heavies like John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, et al) and more than 300 of their member critics and chose the Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz books as the Best of 2007 in the nonfiction and fiction categories. I liked "Brother, I'm Dying" in a Du Boisean sort of way (though I prefered her novel in short stories, The Dew Breaker because of the main character's moral ambiguity) but not particularly the Diaz, which despite all the verbal razzle dazzle presents a cartoonish version of race.
"Man Gone Down" by Michael Thomas (like Calvin Baker's "Dominion") was almost unknown until last week when the NY Times Editor's chose it as one of the 10 best books of 2007. I'm still reading it but so far it reminds me of "Another Country," and could be the best new novel I've read, like...ever.
Whoa whoa whoa...I haven't read the novel. I'm just talking about the film, which I was basically holding up as an example, as all Mira Nair's flicks are, of something that entertains, is pleasant on another level, yet can be deep also. All I'm saying is that we could stand to have more movies like that. I stand by The Namesake! ;-)
My dad has a copy of Man of Gone Down, believe it or not, but hasn't cracked the spine. I'll have to steal it...
i dont know whats wrong with us, black authors, but some do, i am one of those, nice blog, chk me out sometimes
I'm not a Halle fan but she has exec produced two movies through her production company, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" and "Lackawanna Blues."
These were good, Lackawanna was great!!! Awesome cast.
I agree w/ the "escapism" stuff. Chitlin stuff and "uplifting" stuff is the norm. Where is our film noir, irony etc...
I'll take Tyler Perry over Soul Plane and Who's Your Caddy and White Chicks anyday.
I read a lot of Black literature - I hate 'Ghetto Lit'- and there are plenty of stories that could be told from our perspective. Heck, we have a treasure trove of Black Historical figures that would make fabulous dramatic stories. ...why not work on those stories? Make a dramatic film to show the diversity of your talent.
i thought i was the only one that felt that Morris Chestnut has played the same character over and over.
i feel you 100%
It does seem that Chestnut and Union are horribly typecast and cant seem to fight their way out! I am defenitely not seeing their latest flick, cause Ive seen it already.
There are a few things no one here is saying.
A. Conditioning. If you eat bullshit long enough, you eventually develop a taste for it. but that isnt even why these movies are continuously made. thats just why people go see them.
I doubt black writers have much pull or say so in hollywood, and doubt they are writing many of these movies and submitting them, I think they are being commisioned to write these movies after the project has been given the go ahead to be created.
Our only hope is that Denzel, Oprah and other powerful, community-minded people, search for and produce and star in, films of merit. Its the only way until someone establishes a production company or quasi-studio dedicated to black films that are art and not commodities.
I just want black films that are art, I dont care what they are about, although I'd prefer some social relevance.
Yes, and what is up with all the cross-dressing in these cookie-cutter comedies? Are they truly saying there are no women to fill these roles or that men in foam rubber masks play a better cliche mature, feisty woman than a real female?
I think, though, that the thing holding back "black cinema" is that its audience is limited. Only 10% of the population is black, after all, and there is just so many times other races care to see films portraying the extremities of the black experience. Plus, I have to say, just because a film deals with serious issues does not make it good and too many time black film fall back on worn, uninspired writing/dialogue, just like black comedians of the def-jam variety seem to gravitate towards tried and true themes. The best ones, those with the skills to cross-over to other races, explore more universal, human issues. I'm not saying the themes of black serious film is not humanistic, just that the writing makes caricatures of the roles; once you've seen one...
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