During a Q and A forum at the Albany, GA Black Expo, I asked actor Allen Payne to speak about the ongoing drama between Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. Spike feels that his work is positive art that uplifts the community while Perry’s productions are modern-day buffoonery to some degree. Tyler recently recommended a fiery place where Spike can go.
I loved Spike Lee’s work from the second I saw Tracy Camilla Johns’ Nola Darling character in “She’s Gotta Have It” and yes, Tyler Perry has some characters that I could live without. But, intelligent people know that a few theatrical characters don’t represent all of a group and Perry used Seinfeld and the Sopranos as examples of other ethnic groups doing the same. In the companion book for Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” I learned that film is a medium of art that–like of other art forms—provokes thought and leaves the viewers asking “was that right or wrong.”
Robert Townsend’s “Hollywood Shuffle” was based on the ethical dilemmas Black actors face: Wait for quality parts in the poor house or do negative reflections of our community while getting crazy paid. A line from that movie stated, “There’s always work at the Post Office.”—not anymore.
As children, we were taught to never let anyone divide the Black; we can’t sink while others float because we are all in the same big boat. Today, I think there is room for different schools of thought: from Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Dubois to Spike Lee vs. Tyler Perry. Conflict might actually be a form of diversification and we should not put all of our eggs in one basket.
In politics and policy, the rural South takes cues from urban leaders but their agendas are different from our agendas. Atlanta is the best Black city on earth; however, the Democrat leadership there can’t fully comprehend our rural vibe (pro-military, pro-agriculture, pro-gun.)
Allen Payne, who works on Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne,” answered my question by saying that guys like Perry and Payne himself didn’t grow up in the Black elite, college-educated world of Spike Lee. They make movies and T.V. that reflects the world they know and people like it. From his statement, I decided to ask several friends if they would make a movie with false depiction of Black America if the producers gave them $5 million walking in the door. I was surprised (disappointed) by those who would take the money first and later consider charitable ways to sanitize their ill-gotten gains.
I am starting to think the same concept applies to politics: get your money because that is what the next guy is doing. Public Enemy had that pun lyric, “I know you got sold.” We can’t discuss art imitating life vs. life imitating art with looking at the current vibe of hip hop. For me, blues, jazz and then hip hop were some of the only American-born art forms (yes, the roots are in Africa.) In my part of the rural South, the harder parts of hip hop are leading youth to embrace a thug life over education and achievement. They glorify aspects of street life that could reverse our gains of the last 50 years. Yes, we are going backwards.
Check this out: Dr. Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X was likely a well planned effort at juxtaposition: deal with peace-loving MLK or deal with Malcolm and those who felt it was time for self-defense with rifles. I would have supported the rifle crew. Today, it will take brothers talking with brothers to refocus our community and if hip hop isn’t careful they will alienate large segments of our community–sometimes we need to be divided. If they can get paid make that music, we should give the Black conservatives a break as they add range to our options.