First off all, why does it have to be versus? Clearly both of these gentlemen are filmmakers who create films for different audiences. Tyler Perry got his start with comedy and Spike Lee with socially conscious, artsy films. Why is it that people are intent on pitting them against each other?
I’ve seen several Spike Lee films and I’ve seen several Tyler Perry films. I can see the merit in both and I appreciate that we have this type of diversity in mainstream black cinema (even though I do miss the Spike Lee voice since Miracle at St. Anna in 2008). However, there is still a very small number of black filmmakers contributing to mainstream cinema. Yes we have Rainforest Films (go Rattlers!), F. Gary Gray, John Singleton and The Hughes Brothers to name a few but the list could be much longer. There are a lot of black people making films but unfortunately many of those films are relegated to the art house and never have the opportunity to be exposed to a larger audience.
There are many reasons for this, but the one that I’ve heard most frequently is that “black people don’t support black films”. Well black people go see Tyler Perry films and it led to his newest film Madea’ s Big Happy Family being expected to be number one on opening weekend. Now it was edged out by the animated film, Rio but ultimately it made $25.1 million opening weekend coming in number two. I remember a time when it was a victory when a black film made the top ten its opening weekend and now we have films like Madea’s Big Happy Family and Takers (which made $20.5 million and was number one it’s opening weekend) showing that black films can bring in the audiences.
This is amazing and rather than comparing the black filmmakers that are able to have that kind of success, we should celebrate them and support other black filmmakers. What Tyler Perry does is needed. Some people need to see films where black people can be redeemed as long as they believe in God, family and themselves. There is nothing wrong with that. So what, Tyler Perry has a character that wears a dress? There are plenty of actors that have donned a dress for a film. Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie), Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire), John Travolta (Mrs. Edna Turnblad) and Nathan Lane (Starina) have all dressed as women in film so what Tyler Perry is doing as Madea isn’t a big stretch.
The cool thing about having free will is that you don’t have to go see Tyler Perry’s films if you don’t want to. Personally, I prefer action films, horror movies and thrillers so I’m much more apt to see a Rainforest Films or Hughes brothers production over a Tyler Perry film. But this doesn’t mean I feel the need to compare Tyler Perry’s films to the ones produced by Rainforest or the Hughes brothers.
Black people, let’s celebrate the increase in successful black production companies in Hollywood and enjoy the diversity rather than making negative comparisons.