|This man speaks for black women everywhere.|
Pros: Boyz in the Hood is a classic, full stop. It does an excellent job at portraying lower-class black life, something that is rarely done in a non-exploitative or even hopeful way. Singleton cares about his characters and their various plights, and treats them, their plot arcs, and their environment with respect. He also directed Poetic Justice, a lesser and lesser-known movie starring Janet Jackson as a poet who embarks on a road trip to escape the violence that claimed her boyfriend. Unfortunately, Janet's limited acting abilities squandered a well-written role, but it didn't make the role any less well-written.
Cons: 2 Fast 2 Furious. What in the hell WAS that? I can only assume that the promise of lots of cash prompted him to eschew any positive female characters with opinions and personalities in favour of Eva Mendes slithering about in a bikini.
|I mean, to be fair...|
Pros: Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X are powerful movies, focused by Lee's desire to say something coherent. And in Jungle Fever, a movie that investigates and ultimately rejects the potential for happy interracial relationships, he dedicates a 5-minute uninterrupted scene to a group of black women coming together to commiserate, air their grievances, and support each other. Fortunately for these women, Lee lets them speak without a script, freeing them from his very unnatural and stilted language to really open up about how they feel about men, and how men make them feel about themselves.
Cons: Lee is no longer in the habit of trying to say something coherent, other than WHITE RACISM IS BAD, BLACK RACISM IS JUSTIFIED. He also has very little respect for women (white women especially, but all women in general), which is difficult to overlook. After all, that scene in Jungle Fever was just a scene, and most of the women come across as bitter or stingy. The less he deals with women, the better he is, but that pretty much disqualifies him from directing a movie all about women.
Malcolm D. Lee
Pros: Of all these gentlemen, Malcolm D. is definitely my favourite. He's adept at ensemble pieces like The Best Man, creating (for the most part) three-dimensional characters with unique personalities, outlooks, and problems. I also just love Undercover Brother, for all its warts. He has a real love for black culture and black history that I really don't feel from Tyler Perry, without any of the narrow-mindedness and hatred of his cousin Spike.
Cons: Brother Malcolm has a problem with professionally successful black women. The women who "put career first" are punished by getting no love or sex, or by becoming castrating caricatures ripe for humiliation. This problem is pretty pervasive, and pretty bothersome. I hate the idea that women - and especially black women - are made to be villains for being successful.
|Don't worry, she's just a non-threatening caterer.|
So, you may have noticed some trends here. One is that all of these directors are at least a little bit iffy on their characterization of black women. Another is that none of these directors is a lady. And, you know, I couldn't think of a single black female director off the top of my head. That breaks my heart - naming five black directors off the top of my head is difficult by itself, and trying to name one who's also a woman is pretty much impossible. Luckily, I persevered and came up with a woman who would be artistically perfect but financially untouchable.
Gina Prince-Bythewood directed a movie I will never stop loving, Love & Basketball. This movie is basically awesome. It's a realistic love story about two arrogant and talented athletes. It's a frank portrayal of the toll conventional gender roles can take on married women. It's a commentary on how differently (or indifferently, really) female athletes are treated. It's a movie with Tyra Banks in it for a little. My point is, Prince-Bythewood is a director who cares about her characters, who can deal with serious drama without letting it become maudlin, and who respects and understands women. Unfortunately, she doesn't and will never have the bags of money that Tyler Perry has, and that fact robs us of what would have been a beautiful, sensitive movie.