Dear Tyler Perry,
As you must know by now, your film For Colored Girls was officially shut out of the Oscar race. I wish I could say I’m surprised but the writing was pretty much on the wall, with the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild also choosing to snub For Colored Girls as well. You’ll probably get pats on the back and statements like “Who cares about an Oscar anyway?” The truth is Mr. Perry you do care, because deep down I know you want your own golden statuette. I saw you presenting at last year’s Oscar’s and even though you joked that you’d never be on stage to accept your own award, the seed of ambition was already sown. The film you executive produced, Precious, went on to win a Best Supporting Actress win for Mo’Nique and Best Adapted Screenplay for Geoffrey Fletcher who made history as the first Black screenwriter to win in this category. Having been exposed to such greatness, why shouldn’t you helm your own Oscar-worthy vehicle?
Landing For Colored Girls must have been like manna from the cinema gods; you had great source material and a mega-watt cast of actresses moviegoers hadn’t seen since Steel Magnolias. You worked the hell outta the media machine, promoting For Colored Girls’ as a film that would appeal to women, colored or not, and even pushed the release to November, which would clearly qualify the film for Oscar consideration.
Then the reviews came in.
While most critics praised the talented cast, they also panned the heavy-handed direction and over- the- top melodrama. However, this is not a lost cause for you Mr. Perry. You have demonstrated that you can attract great talent but you just need a few tweaks to put you over the hump. Follow the steps below and you can join the very exclusive club of Black Directors nominated for Oscars.
1) Hire a Screenwriter—Oscar winning movies consist of a trifecta of strong performances, directing and screenwriting. I know you insist on writing, directing and producing all of your films, but what’s the saying? “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Kathryn Bigelow (‘Hurt Locker’) last year’s Best Director winner, delegated screenwriting duties to Mark Boal who also scored a Best Screenplay win. It also worked for Martin Scorcese (‘The Departed’), Clint Eastwood (‘Million Dollar Baby’) and Steven Spielberg (‘Saving Private Ryan’).
2)Down with the Stereotypes, All Hail the Archetype!—Yes, Mr. Perry it’s time to move past the one-dimensional depictions of African-Americans in your films. If someone were to watch all of your movies back-to-back, the impression would be that black women are helpless victims to the sexual deviance of their black men. Happily married couples and well-adjusted, single women seem to be almost mythical in the Tyler Perry universe. There’s a fine line in addressing your community’s ills and just plain wallowing in its pathology—in reality it perpetuates the cycle of victimization. Can we agree that not all Black men are wife-beaters and dead-beat dads? That not every Black woman is a strung-out crack whore or a lonely spinster waiting for Shemar Moore to ring her doorbell and sweep her away?
Furthermore, is there a reason why every other ethnic group portrayed in your films is a textbook stereotype? Can the Latin next door neighbor have a command of the English language and not end his/her sentences with ‘ese’? You know what wins Oscars? Archetypes, like The Hero (‘Gladiator’), Star Crossed Lovers (Titanic’), and The Epic Quest (‘Lord of the Rings’).
3)Attract A-List Talent—Mr. Perry, it’s time to whip out the blackberry and reach out to Denzel, Halle, and Morgan. and How can you be the most commercially successful black director and not have the crème de la crème of Black Hollywood starring in any of your projects? Spike has worked with two of the aforementioned at least once. If you want pedigree talent, please refer to steps 1 and 2 mentioned above.
4) Do a Biopic—Biopics are practically guaranteed an Oscar—just ask Jamie Foxx (‘Ray’), Nicole Kidman (‘The Hours’) and Russell Crowe (‘A Beautiful Mind’). Audiences are enthralled with the process an actor undertakes in bringing an iconic figure to life on the big screen. Did you know there are already three Martin Luther King, Jr. biopics underway as we speak? Fret not, there’s more than enough to spread the wealth. Why not a biopic on the queen music diva herself, Diana Ross? You could also commission a biopic on Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis or your girl Oprah Winfrey. Political figures like Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall and Shirley Chisholm would also make great cinematic subjects.
5)R.I.P. Madea— Mr. Perry, this one is going to hurt, but it’s got to be said. It’s time for Madea to take her final bow—at least on screen. Yes, she’s the reason for your success, but she’s taken you as far as she can. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Aaron MacGruder forever tainted Madea with the scathing Boondocks episode, ‘Pause.’ You can’t look at Madea the same way after watching the fictional Ma Dukes swinging her tasseled ta-tas to ‘It’s Alright to Cross Dress for Christ.’ Unfortunately, the industry side eye has been extended to you as well. To my knowledge, no Oscar winning director has ever been seen in drag, ever. The Academy will turn a blind eye to a lot of things (just ask Roman Polanski) but not a Black man in a dress. It’s not fair, but it’s the reality you face.
Now you don’t have to take my advice. You can continue to enjoy the lucrative success of The House that Madea Built and give your audience what they’ve come to know and love from you. But why be content to just make money when you can make history?