The One Where I Think About The Biggest African American Filmmaker and Romantic Comedies

We all have the capacity for good and evil within us.  For me, a good writer doesn’t judge his characters and understands that very simple fact.  I’m not saying a writer shouldn’t have morality.  I’m not saying a story can’t end with the good guys prevailing over the bad guys.  I’m saying it isn’t the writer’s job to judge his characters only write what happens to them and do so in an entertaining and elucidating way.

I have never actually sat through an entire Tyler Perry movie.  I have tried to watch one or two of them only to find them poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted and ham-handed  morality treatises. 

Let’s start with the morality dialectic he operates under and ask the same questions Mike Ryan of the Huffington Post asked a few months ago:  Does he believe if you cheat on your spouse you automatically catch HIV and die or does he believe the people who go to see his movies think that and is just hustling to get them and their church groups into movie theaters?  The first I disagree with the second is cynical and disgusting.

Beyond the overly-simplistic Christian morality, of which I am sure I have friends and family who agree with Perry (everyone is entitled to their opinion), is the greater sin of bad art.  Artistically, his movies are still-born.  Their first and fatal mistake is that the characters all seem to be lists of traits and actions and not actual characters. 

Again, we all have the capacity for good and evil, the writer’s job is to make it clear (without judging) why a character makes the choices they make.  I’ve said it before, people don’t make decisions outside of their character and in fiction the writer must establish the character from the beginning so as to earn any and all decisions the character makes. 

Characters are not simply plot movement devices (outside of Michael Bay movies, which also never watch).  That isn’t to say plot isn’t important.  If you setting out to write a morality tale, you have to hit certain points to get from sin to redemption.  The skill is in making the journey to those predetermined mile posts seem like a natural extension of the character’s journey and making it seem like the redemption is always a question right up to the point where it comes to fruition.

This is why I love genre fiction and genre movies, especially romantic comedies.  Romantic comedies all have the same plot (except for the ending of Roman Holiday):  Boy (or girl) meets girl (or boy), loses girl (or boy), gets girl (or boy) back, the end.  The best writers, directors, and actors do a good job of making the journey seem natural and the ending earned.  The key to a good romantic comedy is the break up and reconciliation part of the movie.  That is the part where the characters take over from the plot.  That is what separates The Philadelphia Story from some Lifetime/Hallmark Channel movie.  By the way here the Paste Magazine list of the 50 Greatest Romantic Comedies of All Time. 

Anyway that is where Perry’s movies and television shows fall down.  He is too busy telling us about the wages of sin and showing us the path of righteousness he forgets to make good art.  Of course, with as badly written and directed the movies are (from the bits and pieces I’ve seen on television) it is possible he doesn’t have the skill to make the movie I would want to see.  Maybe his best skill is the ability to tap into that underrepresented movie market (the black conservative Christian market) that he has sewn up and not actual movie making.

Maybe that is where my problem really lies.  Outside of sports and music, African Americans are seemingly limited to “the one” to represent all African Americans in that endeavor and Tyler Perry has been anointed the one for movies, and I wish for the sake of the art that it could be someone more talented like Kasi Lemmons or Lee Daniels.

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