"I'm so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee. Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that. I am sick of him talking about me, I am sick of him saying, 'this is a coon, this is a buffoon.' I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies.
This is what he said: 'you vote by what you see,' as if black people don't know what they want to see." I am sick of him - he talked about Whoopi, he talked about Oprah, he talked about me, he talked about Clint Eastwood. Spike needs to shut the hell up!"
It was surprising to be sure. Not to the level of "shocking," but certainly surprising. One would imagine that Tyler Perry has expressed those same thoughts regarding Spike Lee in the same manner with the same veracity dozens of times before, just in more select company. Going public in this manner was unlike him, or at least what we've come to know of Perry.
The truth of the matter is that the precipitating question wasn't even in relation to Spike, but about whether Perry receives criticism from the church community regarding Madea and "pot jokes" in his films.
Mo'Kelly will come back to the church community in a moment.
Yet if you heard the audio, Perry was ready for a fight, arguably one that did not exist on that day in that media space. Nevertheless, Perry was ready and seized the opportunity to let Lee have it for the incessant criticism he's rained down on Perry and his work. The rant was not spontaneous, not even a little bit.
That stood out.
What also became apparent, given the fullness of the context and content of the remarks by Perry, was that the criticism of his work obviously has hit home. This is not a statement about whether Lee has made valid points over years, that conversation has been had, hundreds of times in hundreds of different media outlets. The Mo'Kelly Report has been there, done that... now let's go beyond that and let's also be sure to leave out "hater," "jealous" or "crabs in a barrel" and underhanded quips about one's sexuality in the process.
Let's have the "grown folks" conversation now, which is far more nuanced in nature.
If there were ever any question as to whether Perry views himself first as an artist or a business archetype, it was laid to rest with this one rant. Anyone's art, from songwriting to filmmaking to even editorial commentary, is intensely personal. It's the outward expression of our inner longings. It's our heart put on screen, our life with an accompanying soundtrack. Ask any "artist" in any field and he/she will tell you it's exceptionally personal in terms of motivation and ultimate expression. Conversely, ask any consummate businessman and he/she will tell you it's never personal, merely the best decisions made from the best information available to bring about the best financial result.
For example, Donald Trump doesn't give a damn whether you dislike him, only whether he's paid.
Tyler Perry telling Spike Lee to "go straight to hell" says to Mo'Kelly that Perry's art comes first. We can, and have, debated the quality and maturity of Perry's work as his career has progressed, but we should be able to lay to rest the debate as to where his loyalties lay. He's an artist and prides himself on his art; all of our various value judgments of said art notwithstanding. It was just surprising that the super-successful director, who is right now on top, slowed down to look over his shoulder and throw a brick at a singular critic. Clearly some nerves had been struck. Nobody in the room even mentioned Spike's name except...
That too stood out.
Conversely, what also stood out is that Perry made no mention of Aaron McGruder or his far more offensive Boondocks assault on the kingdom that which is Madea. The episode was beyond personal; it was profoundly degrading. If Tyler Perry is about the business of passing out train tickets to hell for those who've offered the greatest criticism of his work, the conspicuous absence of Aaron McGruder is both noted and noticed.
Who knows, maybe that's coming at some later date and some other press junket.
Let's be honest, if you believe Spike Lee, Aaron McGruder et al. have made valid points in relation to Perry, you are not in any way swayed by these recent remarks; only heightened in your sensitivity and severity of your criticisms given the release of Madea's Big Happy Family this weekend. If you are a Tyler Perry fan, you likely found his words regarding Spike both refreshing and honest, complete with ghetto hi-fives and chest bumps. We collectively are where we are and unmoved in this debate.
Nobody's minds have been changed, and on that you can bet the House of Payne.
Now back to the church community and its overwhelming support of Perry...
What has not been discussed (except here in The Mo'Kelly Report) is the irony surrounding both the question and the misdirected answer. How thick is the irony regarding an unanswered question of "pot jokes" going over in the Christian church community yet responds instead by telling a fellow director to "go straight to hell?"
For as much as Perry reminds us that his movies offer humor and a not-so-subtle, "kinda-sorta-Christian" message, what message does his rant ultimately send? It's not necessarily hypocrisy, but eyebrow raising nonetheless to place Spike on the A-train to hell, while promoting his movie of humor and "kinda-sorta-Christian" family values.
Of course Perry should follow his heart as it relates to his art. And of course his critics should remain critical of that art if their hearts lead them to that conclusion. There always needs to be that dissonance and uncomfortable balance to ensure that one's art in relation to African Americans hasn't been corrupted by money to the point of devaluing our self-worth and irrevocably damaging how the world views us. There's always room for both to balance the equation. There needs to be both.
In the end, Tyler Perry will keep doing what his art (read: his heart) instructs him to do, as will Spike Lee. But Mo'Kelly can't wait for Lee's response... um, uh... "balance!"
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and he welcomes all commentary.