I felt the same hangover leaving an exhilarating concert by Erykah Badu and the Roots earlier this month, and watching both "The Wire," which just said goodbye to us and HBO, and the staggering acting in that production of "A Raisin in the Sun" ABC aired in February: Why isn't black life this interesting, vibrant, or complex at the movies? How is it that Terrence Howard can play a legendary character on the New York stage but is stuck as the sidekick who's jealous of Robert Downey Jr.'s hardware in "Iron Man"?
When it comes to black America, the movies are stagnating. Well, when it comes to any nonwhite male subject matter at the movies, the pickings are slim. But there's such a wealth of black stars, producers, and directors that the scarcity of movies - big-ticket or small, serious or light - focused on the lives of black people, is surreal. There's a gaping entertainment void. It's not just the lack of quantity. It's the lack of variety. Despite the usual death notices posted for hip-hop, black popular music is alive and well.
At the moment, black movies come in two flavors: uplift dramas and Tyler Perry. The first is represented by all those feel-good movies - "Akeelah and the Bee," "Stomp the Yard," "Pride," "The Great Debaters" - that, bless their hearts, wanted to empower us, but that nobody flocked to see. Message movies are a great notion but tricky as entertainment. The makers of these films have this noble but somewhat misguided idea that the average black moviegoer wants to feel like she's in school.
Perry's megaplex successes suggest that the average black moviegoer wants to feel like she's in church. His movies have sermons. His movies have soap opera. And, increasingly, his movies have stars. In the past, I've said only somewhat jestingly that a Tyler Perry movie is where black actors go to get back in touch with their roots. (The prim, post-Nipplegate Janet Jackson who showed up in "Why Did I Get Married?" wasn't just making a movie, she was asking for forgiveness.) But now a Tyler Perry movie is where a black actor goes to act. Angela Bassett is the star of "Meet the Browns." "Daddy's Little Girls" had Gabrielle Union and Idris Elba. And the movie that Perry, who essentially works without Hollywood's help, is currently filming has Alfre Woodard, Sanaa Lathan, and the loveable Taraji P. Henson, that pregnant, hook-belting hooker from "Hustle & Flow."