By Malcolm Woodard | Shadow and Act February 5, 2013 at 3:19PM
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. Unfortunately, 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 with something I'm currently working through below. It's all part of my research for a much larger grad school project I'm working on.
What if Lee Daniels' Precious, was a comedy?
What if Soul Plane, or Booty Call and similar comedies were serious dramas?
I'm wondering if what I'm calling our conditioned classist thoughts influence how we receive films like those I mentioned above.
What I'm getting at is that we seem to prefer that onscreen portrayals of our (black) 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, which is 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 group that they belong to. We want the drama; we want the blood, the sweat and the tears, all borne out of our conditioned classist thoughts. 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.
When they refuse to stay in that box, and instead are portrayed onscreen in a manner our classist conditioning isn't accustomed to, we become upset and react accordingly, still in a condescending manner, 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 "niggers" as we try to separate ourselves from them - us, the supposed "sophisticated black folks."
So, with regards to a film like Precious, I wonder just how different our reactions would be, if the tone and mood of the film were completely opposite to what they are now, 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 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 the comedic aspect of them. By that I mean the Madea character. Take her out of the movies she's in, and, while we may not all instantly swoon in acceptance of the end result, I think our reactions won't be as hostile, because what will be left will be just another melodrama, not unlike similar films from T.D. Jakes, which were better received critically than those by Tyler Perry.
Can you all see where I'm trying to go with this, even though I may not be doing the best job of expressing my thoughts here? But I think a foundation has been laid. So, what do you think? Am I completely off, or is there something to this for me that is worth further exploring, discussing and deconstructing?