Actors in Hollywood sometime develop cult followings. The inimitable Bruce Campbell stands alone as the actor whose fans flock to his B-movies with a fanatical devotion usually reserved for the likes of stars, like Matt Damon (if that fan happens to be Ben Affleck).
No matter how lame, moronic or outright laughably absurd the plot and story may be, Campbell’s adoring fan base assures high DVD sales and repeat viewership (indeed, Campbell’s cameos in the Spiderman trilogy brought much needed moments of levity in otherwise boring films).
Black people love to watch fellow Black actors excel in lily-white Hollywood (although strangely, the multi-racial Dwayne Johnson – aka The Rock – has seen precipitous drops in his box office returns as of late, a syndrome we at SBPDL would like to dub the true Obama Effect) and love to support Don Cheadle (an excellent character actor), Michael Clarke Duncan, Samuel L. Jackson (the ornery, Black bad ass act is getting stale though), Denzel Washington (played the same character in every film since Philadelphia) and Will Smith.
Black people enjoy seeing Black actors immersed in white worlds, but still retaining enough authenticity to remain truly Black and never engage in the cardinal sin of Acting White (consider Undercover Brother, an interesting 21st century film that labels the ultimate sell-out of Black people their reneging on Blackness and absorbing white characteristics into their demeanor).
It is vital that Black characters never fully emerge into the world of Whitopia’s, for much like in real life, precious little fraternization between the races actually occurs. Unless you live in Los Angeles, Washington DC or New York, it is rare that racial co-mingling is a necessary staple of your life. Almost every major city is a test case in segregation, not by law but by conscious choice of home-purchasing rates and the desire to “find the best schools” (strange how those end up being all-white areas).
Black actors in Hollywood are careful about roles they chose, lest they be the insufferable Tracy Morgan who will take any pay check tossed his way since even he wonders why people consider him funny. The buddy cop paradigm is the ultimate white/Black guy alliance in film that transcends racial barriers (Die Hard, 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour etc.) and allows the Black character to still maintain authenticity while working in a white world.
However, this has all changed with the work of one man who has single-handily shifted the balance of power in Hollywood from casting Token Black characters in a predominately white world to casting overtly white stereotypes in a micro look at the world Black people live in daily: Tyler Perry.
Most of America has yet to see a Tyler Perry film (or television show), for he successfully markets his films to 13 percent of population without the faintest hope of attracting any member of the majority or other racial segments.
That is known as working your natural market and utilizing sound market segmentation strategies (sadly Disney failed to do this with The Princess and the Frog) to garner the highest return on investment:
A lot of money. Jail has already earned more than $75 million, making it Perry’s highest-grossing film to date. And his seven movies — starting with his 2005 big-screen drag debut as Madea in Diary of a Mad Black Woman — have grossed more than $350 million combined, putting him on track to join John Singleton and Keenen Ivory Wayans as one of the most successful black filmmakers ever. He may already be the most divisive. At a time when Barack Obama is presenting the world with a bold new image of black America, Perry is being slammed for filling his films with regressive, down-market archetypes.
In many of his films there’s a junkie prostitute, a malaprop-dropping uncle, and Madea, a tough-talking grandma the size of a linebacker (”Jemima the Hutt,” one character calls her). ”Tyler keeps saying that Madea is based on black women he’s known, and maybe so,” says Donald Bogle, acclaimed author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films . ”But Madea does have connections to the old mammy type. She’s mammy- like . If a white director put out this product, the black audience would be appalled.”
The question has to asked though: do white people pay for a ticket to see Tyler Perry’s film or is Mr. Perry the finest marketer to his target market since Woody Allen started making boring films every year that only individuals of the Jewish faith flock to see?
Time Magazine places the percentage of white people who see Tyler Perry’s film at four percent, a shockingly high number that can only be justified for the simple that reason that white people thought Tyler Perry was a white name and thus, a white director.
Perry’s seven films have averaged box office gate receipts of roughly $59 million (Highest being Madea Goes to Jail at $90 million), and the theaters are packed with Black families and Black people on dates laughing at Black actors.
White people – and critics – have found the humor that flows through Perry’s scripts the same complex enigma that once kept explorers up at night trying to locate the source of the Nile River.
National Public Radio, the Pravda of Disingenuous White Liberals wonders if Perry is catering to a target rich environment that deprives him of extra ticket sales (i.e., the 87 percent of America that isn’t Black):
The good news is that Perry can be consistently counted upon to deliver $20 million-plus openings. “Remarkably, he’s done this playing to a predominantly African-American audience,” Lionsgate distribution president Steve Rothenberg said.
Indeed, Perry clearly holds the distinction of being the best-drawing filmmaker targeting urban moviegoers.
The not-so-great news: Perry’s movies just don’t seem to be crossing over to mainstream audiences.
That latter observation is perhaps a bit unsurprising as Perry’s comedies feature over-the-top caricatures of inner-city characters and his humor is consistently based on the modern black experience. Yet when that focused appeal produces a huge 63% second-session drop — as with “Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns” this past weekend, an especially big slide for a comedy — it could mean the time has come for the filmmaker to tweak his approach.
Or not. Lionsgate executives won’t go on the record about Perry’s crossover prospects, but there’s been little for them to grouse about.
Getting into the Tyler Perry business has been like acquiring a license to print money for Lionsgate, whose execs seem content to let the filmmaker chart his own where-from-here strategy. “Browns” opened during the March 21 frame with $20.1 million and went on to gross $32.5 million through its first 10 days — not bad for a film costing less than $20 million to make.
Tyler Perry films do not have longevity at the box office. Like a firecracker on the Fourth of July, they explode quickly emitting a few oohs and ahhs from Black people, but the experience is short lived and the repeat value fades dramatically upon second viewing.
White people find the firecracker loud, noisy and confusing and don’t even bother looking, opting to rent American Pie VI over one of Perry’s odd cinematic features.
Perry’s films have been criticized by Spike Lee, a once famous authentically Black director whose films have fallen on hard times at the box office and routinely fail as often as Perry’s ventures succeed.
The lily-white Turner Broadcasting Systems (TBS) is a huge fan of Tyler Perry and utilize his talents to fulfill the quota for Black shows on their network that covers the cable channels entire run (more than 30 years) and grants them immunity from being labeled the redneck network:
In a deal similar to the one TBS struck for Perry’s sitcom House of Payne in 2006, when they ordered 100 episodes before a single one had even aired, they’ve just announced an 80-episode order for the very similar Perry family sitcom Meet the Browns, which premiered in January.
Problem though: 99 percent of white people and the other races that comprise the 87 percent of America not Black have never, ever seen one of Tyler Perry’s sitcoms, save for the commercials advertising an seemingly obnoxious show that makes us all pine for the return of Steve Urkel and Family Matters. Worse, TBS has the moniker of “Very Funny”, which a careful examination of a Tyler Perry sitcom proves highly erroneous (Cracked.com finds the Tyler Perry crazed world we live a worthy edition to The Twilight Zone).
Perry’s shows offer some of the only diversity on television, a fact with the corollary that Black people are the only group who watch them, giving it the least diverse audience of any sitcom, save the Winter Olympic Games that Black people boycott entirely.
Black people want to watch other Black people portray sympathetic characters that they can relate, and Perry provides that opportunity on a nightly basis. But again, only Black people are flocking to TBS to tune into Perry’s work:
Debmar-Mercury’s rookie sitcom, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, is running in the middle of the pack when it comes to off-net sitcoms, but among the African-American audiences it targets, it tops anything else on television.Among African-American adults age 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54, House of Payne is the No. 1 show in all of network prime, all of cable and all of syndication, according to its — take a breath here — live-plus-seven, season-to-date, gross-average-audience ratings average. That rating includes double-runs on stations and its cable run on TBS.In primetime, House of Payne beats such ratings monsters as Grey’s Anatomy, Dancing With the Stars, Desperate Housewives and CSI in all African-American adult demographics. Among African-Americans 18-34, the weekday airings of the show are scoring a 6.3 household average. That rating climbs as audiences age, scoring a 7.1 among adults 18-49 and a 7.6 among adults 25-54.Among syndicated shows, Twentieth’s Family Guy comes closest to House of Payne at a 4.9 among adults 18-34. Among adults 18-49, NBC Universal’s Maury inches out Family Guy at a 4.2 to a 4.1. And among older African-American audiences Judge Judy and Oprah are in third and fourth at a 5.1 and 4.3, respectively.In primetime, Fox’s Family Guy is Payne‘s closest competition among African-Americans 18-34 at a 5.2. ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy wins third place among African-Americans 18-49 at a 5.2, followed by CBS’ 60 Minutes at a 4.8. And among older audiences, CSI: Miami takes third at a 6.5, followed by CSI at a 6.1.“If you want to reach 7.1% of the African American audience among adults 18-49, you can do that. And you can buy House of Payne for a lot less than CSI,” which ties for sixth in that demographic, says Bob Cesa, Twentieth’s executive VP of ad sales. “There’s no doubt that House of Payne is a screaming deal.
In his own way, Tyler Perry acts as a microcosm for the Black experience in America and proves that a post-racial America is but a pipe-dream. He is successful by catering his product specifically to his target audience, Black people. White people will never accept his narratives, nor does he really care. The shareholders of the production companies that bankroll his films see excellent profit margins and continue to green light more Perry works that appeal to only 13 percent of the population.
Perry will never be accepted by white people and Disingenuous White Liberals are saddened by this concept, but know deep down that little artist merit can be found in his works.
They make a profit because of the unique selling proposition they offer – a Black director making films that Black people can relate too that lack the Token Black character merely in the script to appease the gatekeepers of Hollywood.
A brand and image unto himself, Tyler Perry has made films that only 13 percent of the population of 300 million Americans will ever care about, but Black people could care less.
The key success factor for Perry is to continue to make films that placate Black people and refrain from adding the Token White to the script, diluting his brand and running off his target audience.
Simply put, white people will never view the Tyler Perry brand as anything more than a Black entertainment for Black people. Black people view it the exact same way.
Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes Tyler Perry haters, for his work in film, television, stage production and books show that gearing an entire to brand to only 13 percent of the population can create a financial windfall. Damn the critics and the absolute indifference to his work from white people, Tyler Perry will continue to make films that appeal to only his people.
The cult following behind Perry will never tolerate any snide review of his film on Rotten Tomatoes nor fail to attend the revivals masquerading as art when his movies debut (here is a scene from a Tyler Perry film). 87 percent of America falls into the category of Tyler Perry Hater, by the way, for they forgo the simple, divine pleasure his books, films and television shows produce with the exacting simplicity of complete ambivalence (The New York Times provides an interactive map that allows you to view various cities Netflix renting habits, by county… look at white areas vs. Black areas).
And only in Black Run America (BRA) could this be allowed, as the vitriol aimed toward a white director making films for only 68 percent of the population and daring not to include a diverse cast would be deafening.
At least they have Bruce Campbell to cheer for… give me some sugar baby.