A few disclaimers: I do not like Perry's plays, movies or television shows. I also noticed that he has written a book, which I don't intend to read. I think of his products as modern day minstrel shows with the notable difference that the characters may be more dressed up; but, I ask, "Where are they going?" I also tend to avoid the overwhelming majority of entertainment that is put out for mass consumption, which includes most movies produced by major studios.
With that said, I think that Perry's "letter", if you will, is a bit disingenuous. Within the past 12 months, I saw 3 independent movies that featured all-black casts ("Night Catches Us", "I Will Follow" and recently, "Pariah"). Admittedly, I don't go to the movies too often (I really need to feel motivated to separate myself from my hard-earned coins and I need to believe that I won't be wasting time that I will never be able to reclaim). I also don't want to minimize or romanticize the challenges that each of the folks behind the films that I have mentioned most likely endured in order to see their respective films to completion and eventual distribution. But, there are in fact films being made with black casts. Personally, I don't really care if there isn't another large block buster made (with an all-black cast or otherwise). In reference to "Red Tails", I don't wish the movie any ill-will, but I personally am not interested in a revisionist or sanitized version of history.
What I do want from my entertainment (and, in particular, my films) are complex, well drawn characters who are representative of the human condition. I want thoughtful story-lines and capable actors and directors with vision---all the things that Perry doesn't appear to possess (or, if he does possess said attributes, he has yet to display them). I also don't want some self-appointed "leader" telling me what I should do (with my time or my money).
And to take it a step further, I will say that simply because something is "all black" does not automatically mean that I want to experience it (i.e., I refer to my previously stated opinions on Tyler Perry's work). I am so tired of these appeals (like Perry's letter) to racial allegiance in the black community that in reality, represent limited, narrow forms of pseudo black-nationalism.
Perry, of course, has a lucrative distribution (and possible production) deal with Lionsgate. Although Lionsgate is classified (in some circles) as an independent entertainment company, it is hugely successful and a bit of a behemoth (and there is nothing wrong with that). For FY 2010, Lionsgate had net income in excess of $19 million dollars on revenue in excess of $1 billion. I don't think that it takes a leap of logic to conclude that the more commercially successful all-black films are (quality notwithstanding), the better financial deal Perry is able to secure for his productions (and ultimately, the better able he is to line his already well lined pockets). Again, there is nothing wrong with commercial success (standing alone), but Perry should be fully honest about his motivations (this conclusion is my own...Perry may in fact, just want "Red Tails" to do well financially...However, the connection is unmistakable and the tactic of appealing to racial allegiance in order to advance one's own self interest is in fact, often used. For example, well-known radio "empiress" Cathy Hughes employed a similar tactic in her battle with the record industry a few years back...you can click here for one take).
I think that sorting through all of the issues at play is complicated and involves many factors (including blatant self interest). But, I really detest the appeal to unquestioned racial allegiance (in circumstances like this, I often think back to this 2008 article in the Times. The article was an "expose" if you will, on the cars leased by members of the House of Representatives and the corresponding taxpayer expense. I found the short profile on Rep. Charles Rangel, who represents Harlem, telling...in justification of his lease of a lavish and expensive Cadillac DeVille, Rep. Rangel explained that his constituents "...like to see that they are somebody and that he is somebody." Ostensibly, these feelings are conveyed through Rangel's tax-payer paid DeVille. Call me crazy...but, I imagine that while the DeVille is quite nice and luxurious, 10 to 1 says that, if given an option, Rangel's constituents would rather see significant material improvements in their OWN overall life and living conditions rather than seeing Rep. Rangel riding in a DeVille...that's just my guess).
Similarly, as both stated and implied, I am a huge proponent in quality over quantity (this ranges from shoes and suits to my choice of entertainment). By all accounts, "Red Tails" is a perfectly fine movie (and I applaud George Lucas, who is estimated to be worth over $1 billion, for basically, going at it alone financially). Tyler Perry's motives may very well be perfectly benign, although I doubt it. But, if one of the outcomes of the commercial success of "Red Tails" is that the black community is subjected to more of the same from Tyler Perry (and those like him), then I question the overall net-gain.
[Note: while writing this blog post and doing some quick on-line fact checking, I happen to come across the weekend movie financial tabulations, and "Red Tails" ranked 2nd with an estimated haul of $19.1 million, so it appears that all black movie casts may be safe for now].