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On The "Burden Of Representation" Debate... Your Input Requested

by Tambay A. Obenson
August 8, 2011 8:04 AM
28 Comments
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It's been one of those hectic days for me, so haven't had much time to do any ShadowAndActing at my usual speed; to keep you engaged in the meantime, here's a little riddle/survey that has been hanging around at the back of my mind lately...

This burden of representation matter is one that has been debated heavily on this blog a few times in the past, whether directly or indirectly, and, as can be expected, a consensus has never been, nor will one likely ever be reached.

Understandable. However, that’s not my interest. What I do expect is consistency in our POVs.

Now maybe I’m just missing something here, and feel free to correct me if I am, but here’s what I’ve noticed.

In the past, I’ve questioned whether black artists (specifically those in the film industry – filmmakers, actors, etc) are under any obligation to “represent” the so-called black community. Essentially, should the choices they make be influenced by how those choices may be perceived (RE: the white man’s gaze), and whether they further what we as the black audience recognize as racist agendas? Or do black artists exist strictly for themselves and their own personal motivations, as individuals, and not as part of, nor speaking for an entire group?

When I’ve asked that question, the majority of you choose the latter answer – that they are individuals, free to make their own choices, irrespective of the mythical larger group that they belong to. Essentially, the black artist specifically isn’t responsible to anyone, or for any resulting beliefs or actions that their choices may inspire in others.

All well and good. However, I continuously witness instances on this blog in which our comments suggest the first response – that there is indeed an obligation or responsibility on the part of the black artist; that they don’t live in individual bubbles, and their actions do have reverberating effects felt throughout the community. All you have to do is take a look at reactions to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help, as a most recent example. “I can’t believe she took that role” is a repetitive theme.

And then there are our reactions to Tyler Perry and his films, also suggesting that there is (or should be) some obligation or responsibility on his part with regards to the kind of “art” he produces. “He’s cooning” is another repetitive response.

So… really, which is it? I feel like I've asked the same question in a variety of ways in order to make the same point: should black filmmakers (actors, directors, writers, etc) carry what I’m calling this burden of representation? If your answer is yes, then I can understand your frustrations with a film like The Help, or with Tyler Perry’s portrayals, even though I may disagree with them. And if your answer is no, then you really have nothing to complain about, right? You can’t then suggest that a black filmmaker or black actor should make what you deem “better” or less offensive choices that are free of racial stereotypes, or that you feel discourage short-sighted perceptions of the rest of the group by “outsiders,” because you’ve essentially relieved them of the responsibility, have you not?

And pushing this even further… where does the black audience fall in all of this, when it comes to obligation/responsibility? The burden seems to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the black artist, but what about the black audience? Should the black artist specifically have any expectations of the black audience, just as the black audience has expectations of the black artist (assuming that to be the case)? I recall Sergio’s “castor oil films” post and the mostly “here, here” reactions that followed. If Denzel Washington makes The Great Debaters, or Antwone Fisher, or Spike Lee makes Bamboozled, or He Got Game, or Oprah makes Beloved, or even Ava DuVernay makes I Will Follow (and several other examples), should they have any expectations of us – essentially that we will support these films, because they are, at the very least, well-made, thoughtful works by black artists, no matter how challenging, difficult to swallow, or "boring" we might think they are. If we place burdens on black artists almost solely because they are black, should they place similar burdens on us, also because we are black?

We often say that we won’t support black films just because they are black films, even if they are well-made or well-meaning, which is certainly our right; however, what if they, the black artists, took a similar stance, and said that they aren’t making choices for the rest of us, just because we are all black? Do they have that right? Does the black audience also carry this burden of representation that we place on the artists?

And yet another consideration to all this is... if there’s no burden to be placed on the black artist, and there’s no expected obligation or responsibility from the black audience either, then where does that leave us?

Am I making sense? I hope so.

Help me out here folks, I’m more left-brained; and I’m trying to reach some logical conclusion to all the “representation” debates we continue to have on this site… so chime in with your thoughts.

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28 Comments

  • David Boaz | August 10, 2011 4:28 AMReply

    What you refer to as the burden of representation is what I have been referring to as the burden of staying employed. Most Actors, black or white have the burden of staying employed and relevant tin the industry. With this in mind, it quite clear that an actor may just have to take what is offered or available. And to the question of where the black audience falls in all of this, when it comes to obligation/responsibility? Well the issue might just be the same, You watch what is available and you like. You can boycott it if you wish but some people are just going to watch it. The solution is “ Stop beefing with another man's system. My dad said "Go and build your own industry, and let it do what you know it will do." First there was Hollywood, then came Nollywood now there is LANTAWOOD

  • CareyCarey | August 9, 2011 9:25 AMReply

    "[Carey, that doesn’t make my opinion any less valid or snobby"

    That's true Donnie (I noticed that you talked about snobs in your very first comment. The very first comment that hit this post), and much of what you've said is valid. After reading all the comments, this whole "burden of responsibilty" thing, seems to encompass an array of qualifiers. Is the burden to produce something "great"/"quality"? Is the burden on the actor to take roles that every black person will adore? Is the burden on the black director to produce movies telling "our" stories - only?. Should a black actor not take roles like maids and chauffers? Is the burden on the black viewer to "support" all black films and boycott those that do not tell our stories from a black person's perspective?

    Yep Donnie, I agree, it seems that every voice in this debate has a hint of validity

  • Donnie Leapheart | August 9, 2011 8:32 AMReply

    @CareyCarey

    I brought up the term "quality" because Orville stated people were bashing Tyler Perry's work. I took that to mean people didn't think it was very good and/or bafoonery (I haven't read the comments personally though). Also meaning they didn't think it was "quality" work. Example: I never understood how Aqua Team Hunger Force became a hit because I don't really see the "quality" in it...but millions disagree. However, that doesn't make my opinion any less valid or snobby.

    As for "Amos n Andy", I brought that up to illustrate a series that many people think of as "stereotypical" was very popular with audiences. Did its popularity make it any less racially insensitive to some? (This question was examined in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled".) I'm not comparing this show to any current series or filmmakers.

  • Ghost | August 9, 2011 7:42 AMReply

    I think people should be advocating diversity in black film. There is a place for Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, and other directors such as Spike Lee.
    ------------------------------------------------
    People are doing that. It just that the main ones doing it are not working for BET, Ebony, Jet, Source, TV One and other major black venues.

    It also doesn't help when black folk scream that if you don't go see Tyler Perry films or the Help-you will not see more black films.

    That is what the cast of The Help are saying in the upcoming issue of Jet magazine.

    -----------------------------
    Viola Davis: “If you protest ‘The Help’ and don’t want to see it onscreen, then you will see nothing. It will be replaced by nothing. If you don’t see it you are giving a very strong message to Hollywood because it is a predominantly African-American cast in a project released by a major studio. So go.
    -------------------------------
    EXCUSE YOU.
    Do not bully me into seeing this film.
    Last I checked there were OTHER black films out there.
    If we go or not-it will not matter. When we prove that we can make money and successful films/shows. We STILL have to prove ourselves.
    Ask Felicia Henderson, Mara Brock-Akil, Spike Lee and look up Dwayne McDuffie-PROVEN success and they can't get a sniff at projects.

    Yet how many chances did Chris Carter, Judd Apatow, Josh Weldon and Ryan Murphy get? Josh Weldon hasn't had a hit since Buffy went off the air. Nor Chris Carter since The X-Files.

  • sandrita | August 9, 2011 7:25 AMReply

    On NPR yesterday, I heard Kathryn Stockett speak with nostalgia about her family's "help". Afterwards, I read COOKING IN OTHER WOMEN'S KITCHENS: Domestic Workers in the South, 1865-1960 by Rebecca Sharpless, which uses letters, memoirs, etc. from black women, telling in their own words how their tenure working in the homes of white families was not warm and fuzzy. Indeed, domestic work for black women was an extension of the same kind of demeaning, subservient situation that they experienced during slavery. The only difference was that post-slavery, the workers received a nominal wage. Black women had to put up with domestic work in white folks' homes because of the lack of economic mobility. The NAACP aimed to open up society so that black women would have opportunities other than domestic work. But, why would black organizations like the NAACP now endorse seeing black women back in white folks' kitchens? I have no doubt the people behind this movie spread some big money around.

    p.s. The L.A. Times removed this comment that I posted to their article about black organizations' support of 'The Help' movie.

  • CareyCarey | August 9, 2011 7:18 AMReply

    Well well well, Jug raised his hand, but look who else has taken the CareyCarey route of self expression... Mr. Donnie Leapheart leaped in with both feet and guns ablaze... lmao.

    But Donnie, in response to “your” last comment, “I” wanted to say a few things.

    “People just want alternative programming. Ticket sales are by no means a gauge on quality, they never have been. Even “Amos n Andy” was a huge hit”

    First, when did this discussion have anything to do with “quality”? That wasn’t the focus of Orville’s comments. You, in essence, just repeated what Orville said... People want alternative programming, which comes in all flavors. The basic point of Orville’s comment (imo) is all about, or should be about entertainment. So I understood his point on uppity blacks and snobs on this board. Granted, everyone that throws darts at Tyler Perry and other comedic performers (i.e., Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma & Wanda, and Jamie Foxx’s Shanaynay ) are not snobs, haters and uppity negros, but sometimes, many times, those that constantly point fingers at them, as a means to illustrate all that’s “wrong” with black cinema, well... their empty words not only speak of/to snobby-ism, they reek of noses up in the clouds, or someone that refuses to seek first to understand; not moving themselves out of the way of the problem.

    Now, one last thing (don’t want to get too long :-)), I have to talk about Amos n Andy. What’s wrong with them? But wait, before you answer I have to tell you that Kingfish, of the CBS series is my uncle. Oh yeah, and I am in production to do a one man show, honoring him. Yep, I’ll be Kingfish and I’ll speak in first person. The goal of the production is three fold. First, obviously, one of the goals is to deliver a funny (very funny) and entertaining night out... laughs, jokes and stories (some serious), singing and dancing. Yet also, it will speak to all the actors that took roles that some have considered “less than” honorary. More importantly, it will speak to what many black entertainer of that time period had to go through, which to a large degree, is a debt they are owed by every black entertainer who are standing on their shoulders. Also, it will highlight the man behind the name... the role of Kingfish, Tim Moore. He didn’t get that part until he was 68 yrs old . and did you know (probably don’t) He proudly stated, "I've made it a point never to tell a joke on stage that I couldn't tell in front of my mother." and I, CareyCarey, once rode in his looong car. He died in California. Frank Sinatra organized the effort to pay funeral expenses and fellow comedians Redd Foxx and George Kirby raised funds for a headstone. At the peak of his stardom he made 700 dollars a week. His last residual check was 65 dollars.



    In short, what I hope to achieve by this production speaks directly to this discussion of "The burden of representation", in so many ways.

  • Jug | August 9, 2011 6:02 AMReply

    See Ghost, you proved my point tho. It's not that Simon gets a "pass" because he researched his stuff (there was research for MISS EVER'S BOYS, TUSKEEGEE AIRMEN, A LESSON BEFORE DYING), it could still be bad or boring, but Simon's work, and the work of those associated with THE CORNER, THE WIRE, HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET (which he worked on) & his non-urban piece GENERATION KILL, are excellently done-the CRAFT of it. Not a one-dimensional, weakly written character in the bunch...even the port & newsroom seasons of THE WIRE LOL Personally, I think Kasi Lemmon's EVE'S BAYOU & TALK TO ME are perfect examples. They are well made stories that happen to feature black characters (especially EVE's...that's SO Cajun Bayou it ain't funny! LOL).

    But those projects, the "black history, it's good for you eat it" are done well enough, but it's not just the "we've been there done that" aspect but also that they tend to be iconified/placed on a pedestal because it's an untold story and it is deemed "precious". It's not precious (the making of it), it's a movie, a film and treat it as such and let US be the ones who deem it precious. A slight difference but it makes all the difference in the world to the final product (just go watch any Christian movie and you'll see). It's akin to art house movies forgetting that it is a movie and it is entertainment, instead of the endeavor to create HIGH Art, so watching it is like drilling a hole in your head.

    I do agree about there needing to be a wider swath of films focusing on black people. But that also means that more black audiences have to be accepting of those films, those ideas, & they must be willing in large numbers to delve into & immerse themselves in those ideas....Incest, Surfing, Sci-Fi, War Profiteering, political intrigue, contemporary kitchen sink drama, rock climbing...ideas like that that are SO RICH but seem so taboo for a wider black audience, they either don't get made or they get thrust into a couple hundred cinemas nationally (I WILL FOLLOW) & fall off the map.

  • Troy | August 9, 2011 5:58 AMReply

    @JMac
    I have personally accepted the challenge to uphold the burden as a student of life/former collegiate and professional athlete. I have also seen more pressure from my peers and race to be complicit with stereotypical norms/memes. I believe the people are always heard so us dissidents(while not few yet still minorities) are not speaking for majority of our community. I am also skeptical of the automatic endearment for my contemporary elders whom I know have played no positive role to my way of life. Your target audience leaves out the 'Adolescents'(young adults) whom ultimately fueled the Civil Rights movements of 60s and 70s. Those from the old school of the movement dismissed these young revolutionaries much in the way America dismissed them. CORE, SNCC, and many lesser known organizations that had to fight for a seat at the table with the NAACP and SCLC.

    @Minority Audiences
    I feel a burden to accept people who don't accept me but I choose to do so. If we are to dismiss actors/athletes/musicians/other non-elected celebrities for simply disagreeing with the image they portray then why should they carry any Burden of Representation? For you are not the fans/spectators/audience members these people would choose to support them because you never get to know them personally and continuously misjudge them. However they plot not to take any your right to view content they create. While many plot on ways to discourage others from viewing this expressive content. YOU HOPE TO REPLICATE THE CONSPIRATORIAL STRUCTURE OF HOLLYWOOD TO PERSONALLY REPRESENT YOUR INTERESTS. History has shown us that dictators do not defeat dictators but by the people who believe their interests will be represented. Those interests almost are never represented once the new dictator takes the thrown. INDIE is the way to go. Individual representation of socially collective minimum standards not 'Ideals'. BOR almost always represent Ideals and not truth. I actually believe that many of the negative black memes are too tame and controlled. They are attached to broad, clear explanations which only further the confusion around these characters.

    @Intellectuals who wage WAR on situational battlefronts
    BLACK PEOPLE AREN'T THE MOST OPPRESSED MINORITY IN AMERICA AND THE WORLD, IT'S ADOLESCENTS! They have fueled almost every major revolution in the world this last Century. The black community has chosen not to rise above 'adolescent alienation'(True Pandemic) by placing this 'Burden of Representation' on it's people and therefore handicapped their own future. BOR is a form of 'Prolonged Adolescence' other races use this Tiger moms, and etc. The prison system is an example of 'Suspended Adolescence' where most occupants have already violated the public trust of law and order. What have adolescents done to deserve this treatment? Their seems to be more advocacy for inmates than adolescents in this country.

    As of November 2009, 194 countries have ratified, accepted, or acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(some with stated reservations or interpretations) including every member of the United Nations except Somalia and the United States. Somalia had announced that it would eventually do so.

    Somalia a country rife with child pirates and America who sanctions the exploitation of their children through the Arts&Entertainment;/Sports/Education industries.

    Burden of Representation is more of a problem with adolescents than with blacks. I know way too many seemingly well adjusted black adults whom continuously support ignorance. So while Hollywood doesn't represent black intellectuals and children very respectively, they do represent a vast majority of those Old Dogs who can't learn any new tricks.

  • Donnie Leapheart | August 9, 2011 5:46 AMReply

    In response to Orville's comments, I wanted to say a few things.

    "The black community is not a monolithic group it is a diverse group like other communities. The only thing we have in common with each other is our skin colour that’s it. We are all individuals that’s it."

    This statement is kinda incorrect on many levels. While you may not be my "brother" just because we share the same skin color, we do share a similar African American history and culture in America (if that's where you are from). Much like Jews share a "history" and Italians share a "history" and Native Americans share a "history" etc...As related to film, the issue of representation has been with us since "Birth of a Nation" and "Gone with the Wind". Even today I've gotten into debates about the possible allegorical racism in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (the original was a parable about race relations in the 60's). Not to mention the offensive depictions of countless blacks (as one-dimensional gang members) in "Harry's Law" that caused me to stop supporting David E Kelley altogether.

    "Some people want to bash Tyler Perry yet the uppity blacks on this board refuse to explain why Perry’s movies are so popular with regular black people? People call Tyler all kinds of derogatory names but he still is a huge hit a the box office."

    People just want alternative programming. Ticket sales are by no means a gauge on quality, they never have been. Even "Amos n Andy" was a huge hit (not comparing, just stating fact). "Turner & Hooch" made 3 times as much in the box office as "Do the Right thing" in 1989, yet which film has lived on? Soulja Boy may be a huge hit with audiences, does that mean he is offering the best of black music? The key to Tyler's success is well documented, he gathered a core church crowd with his plays, that same core base has supported him and grown since then...He follows and sticks to his formula while adding a "message"...Much like a pastor of any successful church...Many peripheral audiences have come on board because, frankly, some black people will watch ANYTHING that has other black people in it (people have told me this, the same folks voted for Obama just b/c he was black).

    "I think people on this board are a bit self righteous and a bit snobby. I understand people on this board want to be intellectual and deep but the truth is I think a lot of black people just want to be entertained."

    This is somewhat true, however, it all comes down to tastes...Entertainment for you, may not be entertainment for me...by calling people "snobby" for not liking Tyler Perry's films you are in essence a snob yourself: judging others for their tastes/knowledge of movies.

    As I've said before, I think there's room for everything. I think its great that we have Tyler's films killing the box office. And I think its great that we have boring, black artsy films killing the film festivals. It'd just be nice if we had more of the in-between. I think we both can agree with that.

    Will Smith once said that when he first stated acting, he looked at a list of the top 20 grossing films ever at the time to decide which kind of films to try and get roles in...If you look at his track record, you can see that he stuck to that. It's not about trying to be "white", its about universal entertainment. My research has shown that audiences love high concept entertainment, escapism. Black films are universally "low concept". Budget is not an excuse anymore since cameras and computers cost less than cars nowadays. And even cheaper than that: Writing is FREE. It costs nothing to write a high concept screenplay featuring people of color that DOESN'T end with a wedding, people crying & hugging, a stiff voice-over by a rapper, the guy getting the girl that you knew he was gonna end up with from the poster art, a black family smiling at a dinner table full of soul food, etc...

  • CareyCarey | August 9, 2011 4:30 AMReply

    UT OH, Orville (the next comment) is bringing the truth and nothing but the truth. He's calling a spade a spade and he didn't leave any wiggle room for those... ah... that he may have slapped in the face, and I am sure we all know who he is talking about - don't we? Well, read his comment... he calls them out.

    GO Orville!

  • Orville | August 9, 2011 4:07 AMReply

    I think people on this board are an esoteric audience that perhaps know about film theory or study film. The black community is not a monolithic group it is a diverse group like other communities. The only thing we have in common with each other is our skin colour that's it. We are all individuals that's it. I think people should be advocating diversity in black film. There is a place for Tyler Perry, Lee Daniels, and other directors such as Spike Lee.
    There shouldn't be just one type of black director that is supposed to represent the race.


    Some people want to bash Tyler Perry yet the uppity blacks on this board refuse to explain why Perry's movies are so popular with regular black people? People call Tyler all kinds of derogatory names but he still is a huge hit a the box offce.

    I think people on this board are a bit self righteous and a bit snobby.
    I understand people on this board want to be intellectual and deep but the truth is I think a lot of black people just want to be entertained. Life is a blur and I think it is unrealistic to expect black artists to somehow represent the race. Now I think a black artist can have more insight about black issues for sure. However, Hollywood is a business and it is NOT one black artist responsibility to uplift the race. The key for black directors is to research, and target their market like Tyler did. Tyler movies are successful because he gives his black fans what they want entertainment.

    Now why don't other black people step up to the plate and release a blockbuster? Hollywood only cares about money and box office. If someone else can make a huge hit with an all black cast I would be the first to cheer that director on.

  • CareyCarey | August 9, 2011 3:55 AMReply

    @ Blu, you know you wrong... what's this weaved up sister thang? Now you know most of our sistas... mothers, daughter, BGF's, wear weave, and they are proud of it *snicker*. And do you know why they wear them? Well, now, I don't necessarily agree, but I've heard them say men like them better when they wear what Sergio calls yak. And then, they might get asked to "spread it". I know I'm wrong for that but hey, that's what the say. lol

    But I'M shaking my head at ... “Why is Amy Winehouse on the cover of Vibe? What did she do for us?"

    Excuse me, what do all singers do for us? I believe the majority of them gives us music we like listening to.

  • Ghost | August 9, 2011 2:29 AMReply

    In recent interview Viola Davis said, she couldn’t find work for 7 months so she had no choice to do “Madea Goes To Jail”
    -------------------------------------------

    And that is what the public doesn't understand. Levar Burton went through the same mess after Roots-he couldn't get a job and had to create Reading Rainbow and along came Star Trek Next Generation.

    Bill Bellamy said the next 20 scripts he got after doing How 2 B A Player was him playing the same oversexed guy.

    --------------------------------
    Why is it that films like GREAT DEBATERS & BAMBOOZLED tend to not be “good” or “great” films, but we celebrate them? Is there a hatred of history lessons from black audiences?
    ----------------------------------------

    It's not that they are bad films-folks are just tired of hearing about it. Think of all the old folks that lived during the time of Pride and The Help? They don't want to see that.

    ---------------------------------------
    I have not heard ONE person scream about the negative images of THE WIRE, but to the contrary-they speak of how magnificent it is
    -----------------------------------
    The Wire got a free pass because the writer went to the hood and researched for his book-later series. There was no making stuff up. White folks watch the Wire, they don't bother with Perry.

    Our issue is we need more variety in our presentation of our images. The Black media has to show the same love and support to other black filmmaker NOT named Tyler Perry. They need to show the same love and support to black actors/actress that DO NOT do black films all the time.

    We need to call out our black media-I'm tired of stories on TI, Weezy and bums that go in and out of jail. Why is Amy Winehouse on the cover of Vibe? What did she do for us?

    Couldn't that time and story space be spent on other black films, shows and filmmakers?

    So instead of talking about them, we got stories about dummies that keep every single negative image of us alive.

    What is more inspiring to a kid-learning a black man wrote a hit video game (Dwayne McDuffie-Justice League Heroes) or TI getting arrest AGAIN?
    -------------------------------
    We, intellectually, spiritually and creatively are feeling the effects of huge cuts in arts programs across the country.
    ---------------------------------
    When you enforce state tests all the time something has to go. With our black schools being so horrible and having to fight to stay open art programs are tossed to the side to teach a test. I got family in education and the stories they can tell us all.

  • Vanessa Martinez | August 9, 2011 2:16 AMReply

    @Mecca

    yes, "Everything Must Go," which I quickly tried to get off my mind after that ending. I think they were actually playing catch when Will's character brings up playing soccer. I didn't realize that the kid the late rapper's son.

    Like you said you have to create work for yourself. Do the best you can with the offers you are given but use your resources and produce your own projects. That's what it comes down to. I don't fault her at all.

  • BluTopaz | August 9, 2011 1:45 AMReply

    @ Ghost: "Why is Amy Winehouse on the cover of Vibe? What did she do for us? Couldn’t that time and story space be spent on other black films, shows and filmmakers?"

    That's not fair to Vibe, maybe there weren't any weaved up female "singers" around to pose half naked and spread eagled that week, nor gold toothed rappers out on bail? And you think Vibe should have focused attention on advancing true artistic creativity in our communities? tsk

  • Mecca | August 9, 2011 1:39 AMReply

    @ Vanessa

    The movie you have difficulty remembering is entitled "Everything Must Go" starring Will Ferrel and Christopher Wallace Jr.

    I don't have a strong issue against "The Help" I just really dislike the roles that Hollywood dishes out for women of color. It is really pathetic and often at times demeaning. The Help is just another white savior film that does not accurately depict the era. I have nothing against Viola Davis or Octavia for signing on to do "The Help". I understand that they are actors and they have to work and there isn't a lot of work out there for them.

    But I am sure they are well informed about Hollywood and the have no choice to be contemporary slaves to the "man" and do as the studio says, and gain weight so these white beauties can shine.

    In recent interview Viola Davis said, she couldn't find work for 7 months so she had no choice to do "Madea Goes To Jail" I think that is a darn shame because she is really gifted and talented but that's the industry for you it is going to be really difficult for people of color to really break out and create a mark in Hollywood but you have to "create" and build it yourself. It will never come to you if you huff and puff about Hollywood not acknowledging you.

    I'm glad Viola and her husband are expanding their business ventures and tapping into producing their own television movies and production deal. These days you have to be smart you can't rely on white people to give you work and contact you when something comes up.

    You have to create work for yourself!

  • CareyCarey | August 9, 2011 1:39 AMReply

    *** Clapping for Mr. Donnie Leapheart ***

    See Donnie, I knew you had it in you, and you wanted to let it out. :-)

    But when you said: "Anything more that I saw publically on this subject will get me in trouble"... I saw you still having reservations. What trouble? Heck, Vanessa and JMac came out and spread their wings, and mecca shared two of her thoughts, so don't be scared. Besides, trouble don't last forever, so drop it like you have a pair *LOL*. I want to hear more.

    Besides, this is a big issue and Tambay did say "Help me out here folks, I’m more left-brained; and I’m trying to reach some logical conclusion to all the “representation” debates we continue to have on this site… so chime in with your thoughts"

    He wasn't asking for drive-by's. So come on, get back in the deep end with the ladies. :-)

  • Jug | August 9, 2011 1:19 AMReply

    Like Carey, I can get a little..."carried away" LMBAO

    I think the argument is more about the "quality of the work" vs the "burden of representation", or at least it should be. Think about a house...one can critique a house based on any number of factual, physical assessments (materials used, sturdiness, how well it holds in temp, etc). A film too, can be judged on factual merits (shot selection, costuming, line delivery, lighting, etc), but it really comes down to how well those factual components impact an audience invoking an at once emotional & visceral reaction. It's hard to give that judgement without specific or nuanced verbage, so in it's place you get "I liked it", "I was entertained", "IT WAS AWESOME!!" With that in mind, the quality of a film will vary wildly person to person.

    For example, I have not heard ONE person scream about the negative images of THE WIRE (of which there were many), but to the contrary-they speak of how magnificent it is. But we decry Tyler Perry & his "positive", uplifting images, even though there is a large segment of the American population, black & white, that like it. And Flip Wilson's Geraldine is repeatedly lauded by the NAACP & the like. Why is that?

    Why is it that films like GREAT DEBATERS & BAMBOOZLED tend to not be "good" or "great" films, but we celebrate them? Is it because the filmmaker didn't care? Is there a hatred of history lessons from black audiences? Or is it because the message usually tends to overshadow the "honesty" & craftsmanship of the work, the "factual" components I referenced above (script, directing, acting), making them formulaic & two-dimensional like a made for tv movie (Christian movies are Grade "A" guilty of this). Yes, it's great that it was made, both in & of itself AND the ideas it contains, & I may enjoy watching them, but saying it's "great"-with a capital "F"-film...not so much.

    I love MALCOLM X just like I love PLAYER'S CLUB...'nuff said

  • Vanessa | August 8, 2011 12:50 PMReply

    I think actors should should do projects that speak to them and tell a story they want to tell. It's very personal and everyone is different and chooses their projects accordingly. There's not one type of audience and/or one representation. Regardless of what some may think of Tyler Perry and his work, if actors want to work in his movies, that's their decision. They were obviously interested in the story.

    We tend to be so critical and there's really no right or wrong. I thought Derek Luke for example, had a meaty role in Madea Goes to Jail. He gave it his all and it is what it is. Taraji Henson and Alfre Woodard have put in some good work in Tyler Perry movies too. It's not an all or nothing. No, there shouldn't be a burden of representation. Black people are not one monolithic group as it has been said in the site many times before.

    Having said that there should be a lot more of variety in the style of storytelling and different representation of all those other lives of black people that are not represented in the mainstream. That's the problem. We've said this here a million times.

    I can't remember which movie this trailer was from that I saw the other day, and at the end they show the main character playing soccer with a black kid and the black kid goes "black people don't play soccer" and that was the punchline to end the trailer. On that note. That right there is a prime example of what what's meant to be funny to the mainstream black and white audiences and of what's accepted. So yah, Hollywood aggravates (pisses me off) me in how they market things they think are hip/funny when it comes to blacks.

    The only problem I had with The Help was having Viola Davis put on so much weight and the main white character remain very thin when it wasn't that way in the book. Make a faithful down to earth adaptation if you're going to do so, don't attempt a romanticized new version of "Gone with the Wind." But no, I don't see a problem in Viola playing a maid. That was a reality for many women, especially in the south and those stories should be told. BTW, I can't wait to read your review Tambay.

  • JMac | August 8, 2011 11:19 AMReply

    The Burden of Representation

    Does it exist? Yes.

    Should black artists adhere to it? Yes

    Do they have to adhere to it? No. But don't get mad if I treat you like @#$% and refuse to support you.

    Every black person has the burden to be better and achieve more than our previous generations in ANY field. I'm not going to spit in our ancestor's faces and brush off their sacrifices so I can behave however the hell I want with no regard to consequences or no respect to fulfill higher expectations. That's the height of selfishness.

    If we get to the point where all things are equal, then fine, do you. We aren't anywhere near that and,obviously, with this type of thinking we will never get there. If you aren't putting forth your best effort in whatever you do, you're just a waste of skin. [Insert MLK quote on being the best street sweeper] .If you can't make masterpieces for people of your own race who you still share certain qualities (and limitations) with, I think that's a sign for a person to get out the business. We are as diverse as any group and we have so many untold stories. Only a person with no sense, creativity, or education would look at our community and say no thanks, or recycle the same old crap, or keep playing/advocating the same old roles.

    If a black filmmaker, actor, screenwriter, etc... only wants to do what everyone else [white people] does, why should I be interested? I've never accepted "average" for anything and don't ever intend to.

    A tip for anyone who willingly and proudly accepts the burden: Don't rely on the opinions of your immediate peers as a measurement of your success. Pick a person or a group that you admire most or feel the strongest connection with (past, present or future) and ask "Am I doing something those people would be proud of?" That's your true target audience regardless of whether you make 1 cent or 1 mil. I think of my parents and every black person born in this country before 1930.

  • Mecca | August 8, 2011 10:47 AMReply

    I would also, like to add: The issue here is the "man" they control a lot of what is out there in Hollywood. Think about it for a second if one particular race (white) that is out their dominating the entertainment industry.

    Who do you think is going to be showcased often? I think we already know the answer to that question. They have been ruling major studios from the beginning in fact, they created these studios and major houses so they are not going to stop dominating the field.

    Do you think white people care about the portrayal of Black people on screen? Hell no! They don't care because it does not concern them and also, it is not their problem. It is not their issue so they would rather have us fight our own battles.

    I think Black people should do what the Indians and Asians do create your own studios and employ your own people or keep it indie. I don't see why everybody wants to run to Hollywood?

    I sometimes wonder if people want to be in the industry for the right reasons. If you are passionate about writing, producing, directing, acting or cinematography wouldn't you do it for the love it?

  • Donnie Leapheart | August 8, 2011 10:40 AMReply

    Anything more that I saw publically on this subject will get me in trouble, but I must add one more thing. The "representation" problem I witness is something KIA already touched on but didn't hit (for me at least). I believe there is a lack of diversity alright, but not with the actors.

    There's a lack of diversity in the stories and storytelling. Not just with the many "black" family/dating/relationship films. But also the acclaimed drama films as well. Frankly, I'm tired of dozing off repeatedly while watching some of these boring, deliberately paced film festival darlings. I get why Attack The Block is blasted on this site daily, it's a non-pretentious, unique, fun film that feels like an actual movie, not a 600 page novel. Sad part about it is that the actual filmmakers of ATB were not black. Same situation with The Wire and other shows that feature black characters in atypical, well written roles.

    Don't get me wrong, I thing there's room for everything. I just wish there were more black indie filmmakers that wanted to make indie films like Monsters, Paranormal Activity, Cabin Fever or even genres like thriller, suspense, action, etc. I always respected the Rainforest Films guys for at least trying to do this from the beginning and continuing the trend with Takers. There, I've already said too much and now I'm rambling. LOL.

  • Mecca | August 8, 2011 10:37 AMReply

    These images that Hollywood puts out that portray Black people is down right disgusting and jacked up!

    "Big Momma's House"/"Big Momma's: Like Father like Son"
    Oh, I couldn't leave this one out the King of cooning Tyler Perry and his slew of Madea franchises.

    I understand that we have preferences and the word "good" is all about one's taste and that is very debatable like Kia said.

    I blame Hollywood for constantly dishing out these buffoonish characters because they want to make a buck. And powerful people like Tyler Perry and Martin Lawrence who can say no to all of these obnoxious characters but they would rather make a hundred million at the box office than worry about the image of Black folks on screen.

    I believe the issue here is us when you "make it" you lose yourself and you become what everybody wants you to be and that is a very sad state.

    That is why I love Spike Lee for calling out Tyler Perry like he did somebody has got to say it. We are in 2011 these dumb stories of a fat-mammy living in Georgia eating fried chicken running away from the police and hoodlums selling crack and being incarcerated has got to end today.

    If it does not end Black people have no hopes of thriving in the world of cinema.

  • CareyCarey | August 8, 2011 10:12 AMReply

    "I could write a CareyCarey length response here on the subject (no offense, lol)."

    I am laughing with you Donnie because I KNOW, I can get carried away. My passions lead me. So don't be scuuurrred, cuz Kia and Artbitzy were not.... and that leads me to my "short" comment... *winking at Donnie*

    For me, I believe Kia and artbizzy already destroyed this one. They totally killed it. And speaking of passion, their words were as if they didn't care who was listening nor how others may "view" them, they were speaking from their hearts and experience. Gosh, their insight and concise analysis moved me! I'm gonna copy their comments and do something with them.

  • artbizzy | August 8, 2011 9:46 AMReply

    Capitalism plays such a heavy role in all of this. It continues to makes us slaves to other people’s visions or make us water down our creations to make it acceptable and even saleable to audiences.

    My personal responsibility as an artist is to speak the truth, not a Hollywood truth, not your truth not his or her truth, but the truth of my heart. Because money plays such an important role in our lives, many of us who have the desire to make films or create any other kind of art full time or even part time, tend to create art with an eye toward the marketplace. This, on one level is a smart thing. But after awhile we see that the marketplace is a very terrified place. To varying degrees, it fears innovation, depth, originality, the unusual and unfamiliar. Most of all the marketplace fears losing money. Consequently we stick with what “works” what titillates, what entertains, while we all descend into an artistic dark age.

    Much of this fear of innovation comes at us from a very young age in school where we learn to walk a certain line, in order to feel accepted safe and to have access to all the resources that white people have. Since we can’t depend on schools to teach us otherwise their needs to be a massive change in Arts education, philosophy appreciation and application.

    We, intellectually, spiritually and creatively are feeling the effects of huge cuts in arts programs across the country. We are oversaturated by commercialism. So many incredible voices go unheard. I believe there is room for it all and ways we can learn to appreciate it all. That’s why sites like this that show us a range of voices from the “coonery” to the poetic and abstract are so important.

    Acquiring money, for most of us at least, is not at the root of our desire to make films. It truly is to express our spirit. But I do believe that it is possible to express ourselves through film and make a decent living also. We just have to be patient and continue to “be the change we want to see.” I think this site exemplifies that.

  • Doc Oc | August 8, 2011 9:37 AMReply

    Excellent post. I don't think the question of the burden of representation can be addressed in such a black and white (no pun intended) manner. There is a large grey area where context is everything. Context meaning a stereotypical role played in a novel, engaging way. Context meaning where a particular actor is at in his or her career. The burden for black actors/actresses to only play certain types of roles (i.e. positive) can be just as damaging/limiting as any stereotypes.

    In fact, as an avid moviegoer, I actually feel we've made progress when a black man or woman can be the bad guy because it means that the full range of human experience is just as available to black actors and actresses as it is to their white counterparts.

  • Kia | August 8, 2011 9:24 AMReply

    There is certainly is a struggle, almost catch 22. We scream for more visibility. It comes in waves via TP and other in that A list status, but then we hate it because it's not "good" enough. But what is considered "good" know one runs to the theater to see. So naturally, declaring what's "good" is debatable.

    For me, good or quality or whatever adjective rocks your boat=
    1.Tight, engaging, well structured script with smart dialogue and a plot that can be entertaining (a storyline that can appeal to any person, no matter the genre (horror, drama, thriller, comedy etc)
    2.Intriguing developed characters whom have a goal to accomplish within the time frame of the story. If it's a portrait or ensemble, I want to see strong relationships btw the chars that are rich and engaging (lots of subtext here)
    3. A story with a twist, even if it's been done a million times, find a way to add a spin on it. (whether that's through casting, char behavior, dialogue or playing around with the structure--something)
    4. Lead characters that are deliciously memorable (worthy of sequel upon sequel)
    5. Doesn't treat the audience like morons--spoon fed every dit and dot--again subtext is huge.
    6. DIVERSITY please. When I walk out my door, I see many hues, races, cultures. Rarely am I seeing all of one thing or the other, but then again... I live in nyc.

    So I spewed all of that to say... if all those who feel there is a obligation, I include myself in that group, make sure you understand this business and how it's structured (which I do).
    a. Thousands of scripts, only a few get made that feature poc, which is why independent filmmakers, who are picking up the slack need that support
    b. If you/we know that whatever is "good" (again, whatever that means to you) doesn't garner tickets, it won't get supported. Period.

    Now with that said, I'm also on the fence because I do believe with STRONG marketing and more support/belief from the ones who are calling the shots that a departure from the same ole, same ole can be profitable and entertaining.

    That's my stance.

  • Donnie Leapheart | August 8, 2011 9:02 AMReply

    I have spoken in depth about this subject with many fellow filmmakers and I could write a CareyCarey length response here on the subject (no offense, lol). But I shall remain neutral. I will say this though: there are many people that are film snobs in the Internet but you'll still find them netflix'ing things they admonish privately. Such is life.

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