The Right to Be Wrong

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In which Tyler Perry goes in on Spike Lee:


Tyler Perry, director, writer and star of Madea's Big Happy Family and all of the films in the popular Madea series, offered some harsh words to his critics in the entertainment industry, in particular filmmaker Spike Lee. "I'm so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee," Perry said during a press conference Tuesday in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that. I am sick of him talking about me, I am sick of him saying, 'this is a coon, this is a buffoon.' I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies. This is what he said: 'you vote by what you see,' as if black people don't know what they want to see." 

 "I am sick of him - he talked about Whoopi, he talked about Oprah, he talked about me, he talked about Clint Eastwood. Spike needs to shut the hell up!"

I don't much like Tyler Perry's films, and I really wish there was more room in Hollywood for more types of films about black people. But I don't think the former is responsible for the latter. 

Tyler Perry is black, but there's no rule that says he therefore has to make films that fit my ideal vision of What Black Is. He doesn't even have to make films that I appreciate. All Tyler Perry has to do is find that particular tribe of black people who will pay money to see his vision manifest on film, and then make it so. People who want to see another Medicine for Melancholy (read: people like me) need to do the same. 

Spike kinda gets this, though not really:

We've had this discussion back and forth. When John Singleton [made Boyz in the Hood], people came out to see it. But when he did 'Rosewood,' nobody showed up. So a lot of this is on us! You vote with your pocketbook, your wallet. You vote with your time sitting in front of the idiot box, and [Tyler Perry] has a huge audience. We shouldn't think that Tyler Perry is going to make the same film that I am going to make, or that John Singleton or my cousin Malcolm Lee [would make]. As African-Americans, we're not one monolithic group, so there is room for all of that. But at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it harkens back to 'Amos n' Andy.'

But I don't think Rosewood is a very good film. And I think Boyz N the Hood is significantly better than Rosewood. And I think Bamboozled is awful. Which is fine. As surely as Spike Lee and John Singleton have the right to make films that I do not like, so does Tyler Perry. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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