Saturday, April 9, 2011
Racism Is a Drag
Last year, upon the release of "For Colored Girls," I wrote a brief piece on my thoughts of Mr. Perry I called, "Madea Goes to College." Not only should Tyler Perry invest in the art of accountability, it appears he too, should be looking into the history of Blacks in cinema.
Donald Bogle traces a genealogy of Blacks in American films in his book, "Toms, Coon, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in America Films." After the backlash "The Birth of a Nation" received for its sexually aggressive brutish Black buck, Bogle argues cinema had to play it safe making Black men jesters instead of sexual predators. He goes on to state, "Because the guises were always changing, audiences were sometimes tricked into believing the depictions of the American Negro were altered, too. But at the heart of the various guises, there lurked the familiar types."
Now, to those who see a Black man in drag as emasculating, HA! The idea of emasculation is proposterous, especially since it has commonly been used against Black feminism. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." The idea of a Black man in drag for capitalistic exploitation in a European-dominated industry is a different story. For Perry (and audiences) to completely ignore the history of Black men in film, especially as they relate to comedy, in his commentary and films is ignorance at its finest. It appears Perry does not realize that not only does Madea buy into the racist imagery of the mammy, the fact it is a man in drag performing the mammy makes it a double whammy. Madea, the double whammy mammy.
The issue here is not Black male drag queens. A Black man in drag isn't the issue. The issue is a Black man in drag as a mammy. The idea of a Black man in drag so that people can laugh at him and so his Blackness is seen as less threatening to white folks is the root of this problem.
Shows like "RuPaul's Drag Race", films like "Paris Is Burning" and "How Do I Look?" address men who are living their lives in drag, not men who are making America comfortable. Rather than take the time to explore homophobia through his drag performance, Perry promotes homophobia in his films. How does that manage to happen?
Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence...we see this isn't just Perry. Martin Lawrence who famously reiterated, "It's RACIAL!" in "Boomerang", is now seen in drag. A man who once played a character highly conscious of the racialization of different American vectors is now endorsing them. These men had careers once upon a time, what happened? It's RACIAL!
This imagery is not only racist, it's oftentimes misogynstic. Yes, some images of Black men in drag are misogynistic, but some responses to Black men in drag are merely homophobic. It's time to start holding artists and directors accountable for their work. Mr. Perry and others have made it very clear they do not intend to do so for themselves.