The endless feud between filmmakers Tyler Perry and Spike Lee resurfaced yesterday, when Perry, fed up with criticism from Spike, exploded at a press conference. The two have been going at it since Lee attacked the Madea-series creator for producing work Spike described as "coonery and buffoonery." After years of downplaying the situation, Perry lashed out:
I'm so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee. 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…. Spike needs to shut the hell up!
Tyler Perry has a right to be angry — Lee is an asshole, sometimes, and often crosses the line. When you sift through the tough-talking, name-calling, and chest-puffing, there is an actual debate at heart, though. Through the years, "Black" movies, for the most part, have devolved into long "you-know-you're-from-the-hood-when" jokes, instead of, you know, actually using the African-American experience as a context for the movies' actual plot and message. I mean, movies like The Cookout, The Wash, etc. (I know you haven't seen them, but bear with me) don't even really have plots aside from "funny things black people do." And however smart Perry is in real life, his Madea movies do lean a little closer to that than to more substantial social commentary.
I think the two need to start an actual discourse about African-American cinema (if that should even be a distinct category), instead of arguing over the quality of Perry's work. Whether or not Perry is a good filmmaker compared to Lee, he has equal power in the media to change things. For the record, though, Perry is losing by a country mile. His Mrs. Doubtfire act is old. Plus, Robin Williams did it better — a sentence that will probably never be uttered about anything, ever again.