With the release of each new Tyler Perry Madea or Martin Lawrence Big Momma movie, the grumblings once again begin as to the supposed negative imagery of African-American men in drag. The arguments never change, from the "emasculation of Black men" to the alleged box office appeal of negative Black male stereotypes.
Yes, there's some truth to those arguments, but those are only two variables in a very complex equation. In fact, it should be noted they are lesser in nature. History should never be the primary factor in determining future appeal of the genre.
It shouldn't be...
Think law of diminishing returns.
Yes, it's also true that drag has been a staple for Black comedians for generations, but history will never be a worthy excuse to avoid changing the future.
The topic of Black men in drag is worthy of discussion in 2011 (hence this editorial); yet it's more worthy to acknowledge the inherent responsibility of audiences. Friday marks the release of Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son, the third installment of an already tired Martin Lawrence drag franchise.
Yes, it's tired... very tired.
If having another sequel wasn't pushing the drag envelope, then surely adding a second drag character is. The first two in the series grossed $117 million and $70 million respectively, not accounting for inflation in between. How someone thinks this is either an ascending franchise or a potential money-maker, Mo'Kelly is far from sure. Barring a miracle, expect more diminishing returns for the third episode. If we as African-Americans are uninterested in helping drive such cinematic vehicles, we must act accordingly at the box office.
Martin Lawrence will not be left destitute and homeless if his latest attempt at drag queen humor fails. He will be okay.
In April, Tyler Perry will release Madea's Big Happy Family, the latest in the life and times of Black America's favorite, violent "matriarch."
Personally, Mo'Kelly isn't bothered by either Martin Lawrence or Tyler Perry donning dresses. It's more disappointing that we as a community voice such public opposition to these characters and caricatures (yes, Google it), yet don't ardently support meaningful stories when given the option. The onus is on our community. We are the biggest variable.
Speaking of Perry, to his credit, who else would have risked wading into the uncharted waters of Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls? Probably nobody, and with good reason. At the risk of contradicting myself, this is where history has been a consistent indicator as to African-American box office habits. It shouldn't be, but it unfortunately has been. We do not and have not supported Black dramatic cinema. Again, history is not an excuse to avoid changing the future and thanks be to Perry for knowing this to be true. Yet, for his troubles, Perry arguably received more criticism of his film adaptation than actual box office receipts. (The film grossed $38 million).
Perry's last "drag" movie, Madea Goes to Jail grossed $41 million... in its first weekend.
To be fair, not all of the blame squarely falls on the shoulders of the actors, directors or the audiences. Hollywood as an aggregate has long been in the business of lying to our community. Although it may be rare when African-Americans support Black stories devoid of drag or random acts of foolishness, we aren't rewarded with sequels or more of the genre when we do. It's a lie to suggest we won't support a "Black" romantic comedy when given the option.
The Malcolm D. Lee movie The Best Man was produced on a budget of $9 million in 1999, yet almost quadrupled its return on the investment with $34 million at the box office and is still a mainstay on cable premium channels, 12 years later.
But Hollywood will quickly greenlight a third Big Momma's House with its verified, steeply declining audience? Hollywood expects Lee to develop new and inventive ways to beg and plead for funding for a sequel to The Best Man, although he has a proven project at his disposal?
It defies all logic and intellectual honesty. It's a lie Hollywood continues to tell the African-American community. Nevertheless, we don't have to continue to buy it... literally. If we as African-Americans are genuinely tired of Black men in drag, then let's act like it. Don't support it. Or at the minimum, make room in our disposable income to support more types of movies. Don't criticize Tyler Perry for trying to offer something more meaningful and simultaneously turn a blind eye of critique to when Madea puts on "her" dress.
It's time for consistency on our part.
We can't control what Hollywood does or the lies it has historically told, on and off the screen. We surely can control how much money Hollywood will make (or lose) in the process going forward.
In other sequel news. White Chicks 2, starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans is slated for release later this year. No plans in the works for Mrs. Doubtfire 2. Robin Williams declined.
Make of that what you will...
Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at email@example.com and he welcomes all commentary.
Follow Morris W. O'Kelly on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrmokelly