For the past several days leading up to and following the release of For Colored Girls, the African American blogosphere has been set aflame with dozens of diatribes regarding Tyler Perry, the film, stories that are told from a female point-of-view, and relationships between ‘colored’ men and women in general. From the looks of things, a whole lot of people are upset with Mr. Perry for portraying the victimization of women and ‘demonizing’ Black men in the process (again).
I must admit that the male images in the movie were less than honorable, with the exception of the character portrayed by actor/author Hill Harper, which was not a part of the original choreopoem by Ntozake Shange. We all understand that no individual is a one-dimensional being, so I’m sure that Tyler could have made the men appear more human by adding depth to their roles, but the story was not about them, it was about the women who had to learn how to press past their pain and move forward with their lives. Quite honestly, I don’t believe that any intelligent person would take the negative images in that film and apply them to ALL African American men. That’s just ludicrous.
Every time a film comes out that describes some of the issues within relationships from female point of view, there is some sort of backlash from Black men who feel as if Hollywood is not painting an accurate portrait of who they are. It began with Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring music by Quincy Jones); moved on to Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale (directed by Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker – The Last King of Scotland); and has continued ever since Tyler Perry released Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
The only reason Sapphire’s Push (aka Precious, which was adapted for the screen by Geoffrey Fletcher and directed by Lee Daniels, who are both Black men) did not receive the same amount of ire from the male population is due to the fact that the incestuous father was not vividly depicted on-screen. Another big screen feature with a similar theme, Woman Thou Art Loosed, based on Bishop T.D. Jakes’ top-selling book, did not cause much of a stir from the brothers either, perhaps because the good bishop is known for developing forums that speak to both women and men.
If you look closely at the folks behind the scenes of each of these ‘controversial’ films, there is at least one African American male in a position of power. Does the fact that these men supported a woman-centered project make them sellouts to the brotherhood or does it mean that they are sensitive to the issues that some of their sisters encounter as a part of their journey? Both Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry experienced childhood sexual abuse, so perhaps they can relate to female suffering in ways that other men may not understand. Bishop Jakes has counseled hundreds of parishioners over the years, so he has a bird’s-eye view of how the vicissitudes of life can break a person’s spirit and keep them bound in chains.
With that being said, I realize that emotional pain is not gender specific. Being born male does not make one immune to being hurt, any more that being born female automatically makes one a victim. Many men have dealt with a significant amount of disappointment in their lives as well, often at the hands of a woman that they love. While listening to the Steve Harvey Morning Show the other day, I heard the story of a young man who had become an abuser on the heels of a volatile relationship with his mother, who had once been a drug addict. A few short weeks ago, R&B singer Mario was arrested after an altercation with his mother, who has had issues with substance abuse as well. From a romantic perspective, some brothers have become frustrated with the stuff that sisters can put them through, as chronicled in the docu-drama Diary of a Tired Black Man.
I’ll bet that most of you have never even heard about the male version of ‘Diary’ (which I had the chance to see in the theater), primarily because films like that don’t get much press in the mainstream media. As you can probably gather from the clip, it was an independent project that never had a wide release. Why do you think that is the case? Because men generally do not share the turmoil and challenges in their personal lives, in order to keep up a facade of being strong. Women, on the other hand, are always looking for ways to talk about their issues. Savvy marketers and media giants understand this, so they are willing to green light projects that address the emotional distresses that women encounter, oftentimes at the expense of the images of men. (The Lifetime cable network and its clones were built around this premise.)
The truth is, screenwriters would not be able to tell such compelling stories if there was no grain of truth within them. All you have to do is turn on the news (or BET or the latest hip-hop CD) or pick up a paper (or an issue of King or Maxim magazines), to understand that there are men who mistreat and have a low opinion of females, not just within Black America, but across the globe. Women (and girls) are being disrespected, raped, beaten, cheated on, left alone to raise children, and infected with HIV on a daily basis. It can seem to be a bit much when a whole lot of hurt and pain is captured within a two-hour film and broadcast in Technicolor on a super-sized screen, but that is nothing compared to the horrific real-life scenes that some women have gone through.
‘Good’ Black men (and the women that love them) have every right to be upset when the media makes it look as though men of color are nothing more than pedophiles, date rapists, drug dealers, murderers, players, adulterers, thugs, closet homosexuals, deadbeat fathers and users/abusers of women in general. They should use the power of the pen to write letters to film studios and demand movies that provide a balanced view of Black males, or perhaps consider creating their own screenplays. They should use their influence to train young men how to behave like proper gentlemen and treat women with honor. They should stop co-signing with their partners who call women bitches and cease in providing their ‘boys’ with a cover while they go out and cheat on their ‘soul’ mates. They should use their voices to speak up and out in order to let the world-at-large know that ‘real’ men exist: brothers who hold down legitimate jobs, look for ways to continually better themselves, treat women with respect, remain faithful to their wives and significant others, love and support their children, and give back to their neighborhoods.
In the end, the most important thing that African American men and women can do is find their way back to loving one another as brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, and husbands and wives. This will never happen if we continually allow the media to define who and what we are. The only way that a change is truly gon’ come is when we sit down together, start having some real conversations with one another (without throwing stones or calling names), and begin the process of healing our relationships, families and communities. That’s when we will all be able to exhale…….