Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Media Revolution Part 4: Changing The Black Cinema Game

You can find the first three parts of "The Media Revolution" by clicking on the links below.

Part 1 || Part 2 || Part 3

This is an interview with actor Anthony Mackie. In it, he was asked about the lack of African American nominees in the 2011 Oscars. His response was very honest as well as very true, which was also some of the inspiration behind writing this post.

The second video is another interview which talks about him making the cover of Vanity Fair, the lack of Black actors on in the past and his reasoning as to why, which starts at the 4:23 mark and goes onto 5:23 mark.

I'm going to say this one time, and one time only. I'm blogging this so it'll be on record and I won't have to repeat myself again because I'm just going to link the blog the next time this discussion comes up about "Tyler Perry and other Black filmmakers' depiction of African Americans in film". I'm also a Black man who is an aspiring screenwriter/filmmaker and have been actively pursing this by writing several screenplays and I'm currently working on my first full-feature screenplay to shop around to production agencies.

First and foremost, my beef is with Black people who are okay with this as well as the amount of Black filmmakers who follow in a similar suit. You can't attack one without the other and both are equally as responsible. This issue isn't just with Tyler Perry and to think he's the only Black filmmaker in Hollywood doing this is ridiculous. He just so happens to be the most popular and successful right now. Thus, the reason why he is being attacked as much as he has been in the past. Since he is the most popular, his depiction of African Americans in his films is deemed as "typical" or "normal". Mind you, Tyler Perry is actually a good writer. He knows drama and comedy and he understands structure and plot twists very well to display to his core audience. He's basically mastered his style, which is admirable in that regard. It's his subject matter and characters that irk me the most which is where he is the weakest and he shares this with a lot of Black screenwriters.

I was recently told by someone that Tyler Perry's movies are "a typical representation of African American life and that's a 100% fact. If you don't believe me, read a newspaper, watch the news, go to the ghetto right now and see what's going on." By the way, another Black man told me this. So, I asked him if he accepts this portrayal of Blacks, or does he support it. His response?

"I'm ok with Black people telling the truth about Black people rather than living in denial like we always do."

Interpret that how you will.

Now, to get to my initial beef with Black people who "support" or "accept" Black filmmakers depiction of African Americans and the filmmakers who create these films.

If I want to be pissed off and be upset that the most popular and successful Black filmmaker in the past several years is drawing color lines and typecasting OTHER Black people in his films then I have every right to be pissed. How can you sit there and support let alone accept it? Granted yes, he's putting Black people in his films. Bravo. But look at the light he is portraying them in. His characterization is nothing short of positive, save only "Why Did I Get Married" which didn't even do that well of a job and was so forced. It was such a poor display that I didn't even finish the film. He didn't even make it believable enough for me to think that his characters were actually successful Black people in their respective fields. Now that's not my problem, that's HIS problem because he's the writer and he should make me believe this and failed miserably. The strength that Black filmmakers have in creating "woe is me, my life sucks and I can only work a minimum wage job" Black characters is their greatest weakness and a joke.

There is no excuse for Perry nor any other Black writer/filmmaker to still create roles for Black people the way they do, at the volume they do, with the amount of successful Black people there are in the world outside of entertainment and music. To show us (Black people) in that way is a slap in the face and a straight up diss to successful Black people everywhere. I'm talking about CEOs of major corporations we all associate with every single day or at least pass by on our way to work. Did you know the CEO of Darden Restaurants which covers Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52 is a Black man by the name of Clarence Otis? I'm not expecting a film made by Black people to consist of the world's most powerful African-Americans, but damn can I see a Black lawyer, doctor, or professor that isn't crooked or is that asking too much? It's not like this hasn't been done with The Cosby Show, A Different World, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which all three were highly successful long running shows. Spike Lee and even John Singleton were able to venture away from their “Crooklyn” and “Boyz In The Hood” days and challenge themselves and create Black characters outside of that realm.

We have come a long way as Black people not only in the world, but in media entertainment such as television and film. When it comes to creating Film/TV, that's an escape and a chance to use your imagination to create whatever world you want to create. And for us, I say us because I am an aspiring filmmaker, to still have "Black" films that depicts us (Black people) in the form of characters who are drug abusers, whores, gang bangers, loud, crass, boisterous, rude instead of classy, dignified and at the same time being witty, LEGALLY successful and educated boggles my mind. Why is this so hard for someone of color to create characters such as these and make it believable at the same time? We for damn sure have the Black talent and the Black money to make characters such as these so why is this not happening more? There is absolutely no reason for one Black filmmaker to negatively typecast a Black actor in a film unless he is an antagonist. Other than that, I'm sick and tired of other Black people writing roles such as these. YOU'RE the creator! I just want to ask them “You're in control and this is your playground. How are you that narrow-minded that you can only create such weak and down bottom characters?” There's many reason why, and that is whole different topic altogether that I dare not go into here. But it does involve a phrase that rhymes with "Dwelling Bout". Again, I'm not going to get into it here.

What I plan on doing is creating films that everybody can enjoy and rocking with other Black people who are down for the cause. I'm not going subject my people to weak characters that most Black filmmakers have been known for in the past because we deserve more. Open your mind and broaden your horizons Black filmmakers, there are other ways to write your Black characters. They don't always have to fit the negative stereotypes that Black people are labeled with. Tyler Perry isn't the only problem in Black cinema, it's everywhere. Again, Perry just so happens to be the most popular Black filmmaker and due to his style is why he gets attacked the way he does. Black viewers have every right to cry out and say they're tired of these F-list, low budget Black films but yet no one is listening. Don't get on them for voicing their opinion and retort with "well why don't you do something better." Nah buddy, why don't YOU do something better *points at Black filmmakers* and do something about it? They don't have the talent that we do, they're crying out for US to uplift them and save them and it's about time we take responsibility as aspiring Black filmmakers to make this happen.

I'm ranting for a reason, because I am tired of it. I've been tired of it for years and that's why I've taken it on my own accord to study film and screenwriting so someday not only my friends and family but the Black community can actually be proud of a film where they're are Black characters who are shown in a positive light rather than feeling embarrassed. I love film. I love every thing about it from the keys clicking the keyboard in writing my scripts, to filming and editing. Every single last bit of it. I'd die for this. This is one of the few things that I care about in this world and I'll be damned if Black filmmakers are going to continue to keep creating Black characters in the way they have been portrayed in the past. All I'm saying is for others who have the talent to do so, please do it and don't give up. We're almost there and we can make whatever we want to make. Let's get it.

Chauncey Balsom

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