By Malcolm Woodard | Shadow and Act May 23, 2013 at 10:50AM
Let me preface this post by saying that I despise labels and hierarchies in general; they are divisive, instead of unifying, and I'm always looking for ways to break them down. Alas, this is the society we've all helped create, whether passively, or intentionally, so, one has to deal, otherwise others will deal for you.
All that said... please indulge me, if you don't mind. What if Lee Daniels' Precious was a comedy? What if Soul Plane, or Booty Call and similar comedies were dramas?
Inspired by recent conversations I had with friends, and myself (yes, I converse with myself from time to time), I wondered if what I would call our conditioned classist thoughts influence how we receive films like those I mentioned. Specifically, we seem to prefer that onscreen portrayals of our working class and poor be dominated by images that generate feelings of sympathy and empathy from the audience, directed towards the characters within the story, an attitude that we could say satisfies our own need to feel somehow superior.
We want to see our poor and working class, poor and working to raise themselves out of that neglected, marginalized class of people. We want the drama, we want the blood, the sweat and the tears, all borne out of our conditioned classist thoughts, as I said. We don't want to see them celebrating and relishing life the way we do. We don't want to see them be silly, or having fun, and entertaining themselves, like the rest of us do. We want them in a box, locked in with every oppressive, pity-inducing adjective one can think of, and we can look down on them with our sympathy - as long as they stay in that box, of course.
However, when they refuse to stay in that box, and instead are portrayed onscreen in a manner our classist conditioning isn't accustomed to, completely opposite to what we expect, we become upset and react accordingly, still in a condescending manner, to be sure. Except, instead of a pity-infused reaction, we become aggressive and dismissive of them, using derogatory terms to "shame" them down, and back into that box, like saying that they're acting "ghetto," or "ignorant," or like "coons and buffoons," and more. Or that they're "niggas," as we seek to separate ourselves from them, us, the supposed "sophisticated black folks."
So, I wonder just how much critical acclaim a film like Precious would get, if the tone and mood of the film were completely counter to what they are, and the story of Precious Jones - an eternally suffering, poor young woman's story - was actually a comedic one, akin to comedic films about people of a similar socioeconomic class.
And I wonder if we would be thinking about films like Soul Plane, Booty Call and others any differently than we currently do, if they were serious dramas, not unlike other dramas about people of the same socioeconomic class.
Going a bit further, and slightly off track, one major aspect of Tyler Perry's movies that turns most of us off is a comedic one - essentially, the Madea character. Take that specific portrayal out of the movies that the character is in, and, while we may not all instantly swoon in acceptance of the end result, I think our reactions wouldn't be as hostile, because what will be left will be just another melodrama, not unlike the two films based on novels by T.D. Jakes, which were better received critically than those by Tyler Perry.
Can you folks see where I'm trying to go with this? So, what do you think? Am I completely off, or is there something to this worth exploring, discussing and deconstructing?