There are two things certain to irritate a conscious, heterosexual, black man. The first is another black man dressing up in women’s clothing. The second is a black man bleaching his skin.
Filmmaker Tyler Perry has gone for the double whammy with the poster of his latest film “Madea’s Big Happy Family” which shows him as a bespectacled white woman.
Depending where on the laugh barometer your sense of humour falls you will either find it slightly amusing or appalling. Maybe that is the whole point. It is a promotional tool and its purpose, by means fair or foul, is to entice you to see the film.
Courting controversy is not the usual forte of Tyler Perry. That is more the terrain of Spike Lee who has the opposite viewpoint. Lee would no doubt find this poster problematic. His film “Bamboozled” addresses the demeaning way Hollywood treats black filmmakers and actors. Perry argues for the right to make and promote his films in any way he sees fit and he has made a great success out of his black man in a dress Madea character.
Like him or hate him Spike Lee makes movies that champions the black cause and seek to redress the historical imbalance of stereotyping, marginalisation and exclusion in Hollywood films. Tyler Perry makes movies that mainly entertain without paying too much attention to the political landscape. This is the classic tale of two cities.
But, from the Wayan brothers in “White Chick” to Martin Lawrence in the “Big Momma…” series, does a black man has to wear a dress in order to be successful in Hollywood films? The answer is clearly no. We have never seen Denzel Washington, the biggest black box office draw, in a dress. Neither have we seen other black male acting heavyweights like Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne or even Terrence Howard, Mario Van Peebles, Don Cheadle and Forest Whittaker in a dress.
However, we have seen Will Smith, Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Chris Tucker, Cuba Gooding Jr. and David Alan Grier cross-dressing (or playing effeminate roles) on screen so maybe some actors simply choose to wear one for the role or gaining favour with the producer or director. Alternatively, could it be that some actors have a greater resolve and drawing power to resist any such request?
Comedian Dave Chappelle famously tells the story, on the Oprah Winfrey Show, of an approach by a Hollywood producer to entice him to wear a dress to make a scene funnier. He refused and within 10 minutes, the producer brandished a completely new scene. Taking a stand works, Chappelle discovers.
If only more actors had the nerve to do that. In any case, what is the big deal about wearing a dress if you are an actor anyway? Again, it depends on which side your conspiracy theory falls.
Whereas actors like Robin Williams (in Mrs. Doubtfire) can don a dress and win an Oscar to boot, that is usually an option for white actors. When it comes to black actors, especially those who are also comedians, they are the ones who seem to get the biggest pressure to wear a dress to “further their career”. Some believe black actors in a dress are a way for Hollywood to disempower the black man by feminizing them while making big cash.
That is the most generally accepted viewpoint and one that looks set to keep on running.