There’s been some talk about Spike Lee labeling Tyler Perry’s movies as “bafoonery.” Recently Tyler Perry responded to Spike Lee’s comments on a 60-minutes broadcast. Below are video clips of the remarks made by both men followed by my two cents on the topic.
Here’s what Spike Lee said about Tyler Perry’s work:
My two cents…
While I admire Tyler Perry’s journey from rags to riches; i.e., being homeless to now owning a second home he built in Los Angeles, CA, not to mention the mini-Hollywood studio area he built in Atlanta, GA…
- And while I admire how he singlehandedly created his own market without Hollywood’s help (that’s huge)…
- And while I like a few of his recent films; for example, “Why Did I Ever Get Married?” Droves of people posted on Tyler’s website that watching this movie saved their marriage (that’s real huge also – when your work has such a postive affect in people’s lives personally).
- And while I acknowlege and realize that many Black folk attest to relating to many of the characters in Tyler’s earlier “Madea films” (most of our families are dysfunctional at best and apparently Perry struck a cord with his audience/market by identifying with their personal upbringing experiences and helping them to laugh about it) (also huge).
But… (and you knew there was a very big *BUT* was coming, right?????)
Even though all those things above make me personally respect Tyler Perry (they are great things and there are even many more great things I didn’t even list), unfortunately, those great facts doesn’t mean that his early works of “comedy” do not have elements of bafoonery in them.
But hey, some people like bafoonery, apparently.
So while I think Spike Lee spoke some truths that can’t be denied (i.e., that some of Tyler’s work contain traces of bafoonery), there are of course a million and one better ways Spike could have made his comments about Tyler’s work. After all, Tyler is his fellow “film brotha” so-to-speak, two African Americans who are doing big things in film. Clearly they have very different visions, but are “doing their thing” so-to-speak. And maybe that’s part of the problem right there. It was suggested by a friend of mine that maybe Spike doesn’t think Tyler Perrty deserves to be put in the same category as the “great” and reknown Spike Lee. Or that maybe Spike Lee is a little bit jealous and seeks an opportunities to lash out at Tyler. Or maybe Spike saw Tyler’s first movie and wrote him off since then and hasn’t really watched any of his recent pieces.
What exactly is bafoonery?
Here’s how dictionary.com defines it:
/bəˈfun/ [buh–foon] –noun
|1.||a person who amuses others by tricks, jokes, odd gestures and postures, etc.|
|2.||a person given to coarse or undignified joking.|
1540–50; earlier buffon < F < It buffone, equiv. to buff- (expressive base; cf. buffa puff of breath, buffare to puff, puff up one’s checks) + -one agent suffix ≪ L -ō, acc. -ōnem
1. jester, clown, fool. 2. boor.
Some would say that these two men are missing a great opportunity to help sharpen one another. Like my sister Latisha who says,
What if Spike had pulled him to the side, befriended him, then share his concerns? Perhaps a banging collabo could have occurred. What if these two put their heads together?
She also had this to say about Tyler:
[Tyler] is smarter than Spike. He’s positioned himself to be able to produce more black characters and hire more black actors. I wondered if Spike’s comments had some under currents of jealousy for if he was as “pro black” as he projects himself to be. …[But] if Tyler is smart, he’d think about it and admit what is true and try to change up his style a bit. I think if he heeds it his art would be better for it.
But let’s not forget another important point that Tyler made in his interview with 60-minutes. His fan base enjoys and even demands Tyler Perry material just the way it is. They can’t get enough of the so-called “bafoonery.” So Tyler may conclude, “Why fix what aint broke?” In his mind it seems he’s similar bringing to life characters from his own childhood and family life and experiences.
Different strokes for different folks, er, filmmakers.
The portion of the interview about Tyler’s abusive father was also insightful. It makes his story that much more inspirational.
And if you’re doing something unprecendented (e.g., created your own mini version of Hollywood in Atlanta), he may make some mistakes along the way, naturally. After all, he’s a pioneer.
And Tyler has definitely made mistakes.
For example, I believe it was a mistake for Tyler Perry to fire his House of Payne writers for wanting to join a union. (If you didn’t hear about this, click this link for one of the many news articles that ran about it. Tyler Perry hired writers who were not in the union. Later the writers wanted to unionize but Tyler forbid it. The writers kept pressing the issue, so he canned all of them. Yep, they were fired. And then, not only did Tyler Perry hire new writers, but he hired writers who were with the union! That was lowdown and dirty. Those poor writers. Why not just let his original writers join the union since he hired all new writers and let them join the union)
And then there are rumors from credible Hollywood insiders who have worked with Tyler on a few projects who say that Tyler is more or less a “jerk” in person and that it’s hard to get a job in Hollywood if you’ve ever worked for Perry, as a writer or otherwise, because you’re essentially “blacklisted.” Some have said it’s best not to put it on your resume if you’ve done anything for Tyler Perry if you expect to be taken seriously by Hollywood.
But even if this is true, that Tyler is a jerk in person, there still many touching stories about Tyler that definitely show a loving side. For example, like the time he flew the group of Philly kids down to Disneyworld to have fun down there when they were racially discriminated against by a white-owned club who said they couldn’t swim in their pool.
Jerk or not, buffoonery or not, Hollywood doesn’t seem to be making “black films” anymore—not right now anyway—so thank God for Tyler Perry! And thank God for Spike Lee too.