'Shop Talk': Tyler Perry Lashes Out At Spike Lee

President Obama visits Facebook headquarters on the West Coast. Tyler Perry's new movie comes out this week. At a press junket, Perry had choice words for fellow screenwriter Spike Lee about what movies black audiences want to see. Those are just two topics under discussion in the "Barbershop" round table. Host Michel Martin hears from author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, journalist, screenwriter and satirist Nihar Patel, and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Ifitkhar, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, and in the shop for the first time, journalist and screenwriter Nihar Patel.

Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas. What's up? Welcome to the shop.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Editor): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Yo.

Mr. NIHAR PATEL (Journalist, Screenwriter): Thanks.

Mr. IZRAEL: P-dog. A-train. Nihar - what's up, dude? Welcome to the shop.

Mr. PATEL: I don't have a nickname yet, do I?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Not...

Mr. TORRE: You'll get one. You'll get one, homey.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You need to earn it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes, we've got to work on it.

MARTIN: You've got to earn one.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, well, let's get started with the federal budget and the fundraising blitz President Obama's been on. Now, he spent a lot of time this week stumping for cash for his re-election campaign. And he also made time to stop at the Facebook headquarters, Michel, on Wednesday, and had a town hall-style meeting.

MARTIN: And we couldn't figure out if there had - we couldn't find any evidence of any other head of state collaborating with Facebook. Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. Here's President Obama, talking about ways to reduce the deficit.

President BARACK OBAMA: So we've got to look at spending, both on non-security issues as well as defense spending. And then what we've said is, let's take another trillion of that, that we raise through a reform in the tax system that allows people like me - and frankly, you, Mark - for paying a little more in taxes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARK ZUCKERBERG (CEO, Facebook): I'm cool with that.

Pres. OBAMA: I know you're OK with that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's voice you hear chiming in at the back, in case you couldn't hear it - I'm cool with that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: As well he should.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I sure hope so.

MARTIN: 'Cause, I mean, how much could those sneakers cost?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. I'm so happy to know Mark Zuckerberg is all in. Now I can get some sleep.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Guys, so what about you? What do you think the whole town hall thing was about? A-train, you're up first.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I think, you know, what's at the heart of the matter here is, you know, President Obama trying to reach out again to his loyal base. You know, the youth movement that sort of catapulted him to power in 2008, sort of the Rock the Vote generation, I think that there's been a great deal of, you know, disenfranchisement, you know. We haven't been able to shut down Guantanamo. We've, you know, doubled down in our wars. And in all this time, we haven't gotten out of Iraq.

So I think it was his sort of first way to sort of, you know, rally the base. I think that, you know, some estimates have that, you know, Barack will probably try to raise $1 billion, you know, by the time the presidential race starts. You know, he's hosting $33,000-a-plate dinners, and things like that. So it's good to get your base in - you know, solidified before you try to get out there to the rest of the masses.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, with that said, P-dog, you know, it's like this. Now, check this out. Now, we can tell this Facebook thing was obviously aimed at his base. You know, since - but his base complains, you know, they're not seeing a lot of them, but people like me, you know, I think he's overexposed. The man has a country to run. I don't want to catch him on "American Idol" singing Lady Gaga or, you know, somewhere else playing a saxophone. I'm afraid that his campaigning is going to distract him from running the country. What do you think?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. You know, he's stuck in this middle ground, obviously, where he needs to pass this budget, and yet he needs to look ahead for the coming re-election. And he needs to sort of figure out whether he wants to play hardball with the GOP, what kind of tone he wants to set. And for me, what was kind of mystifying about the whole Facebook thing was just that this seemed like an audience he didn't really need to cater to.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. TORRE: I mean, I understand that he wants to recapture some of that old campaign trail magic from '08, obviously, and that's perfectly understandable. He'll need to do that to win the presidency again. But this, you know, I don't see the Palo Alto computer engineer demographic being the one that he needs to worry about when he runs against Donald Trump or Sarah Palin, or whoever it is.

I would - I agree with you, Jimi. I'd rather see him - you know, again, it's unsexy to say this - but to be in the trenches and trying to figure out, what's he going to do? I don't think a town hall meeting at Facebook - as much as I love those guys, and I have friends who are working there, who loved it -I don't know if that's really the best or even the most effective use of his time at this point.

Mr. IZRAEL: Nihar, he was on the left coast, wasn't he? I mean, I know he was just in L.A. last night. Was he doing shots? Or did - how did his message go over while he was there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I don't know if he was doing shots. He would've been drinking some - like, sea grass, you know, spinach

Mr. IZRAEL: Wheatgrass.

MARTIN: Wheatgrass - thank you. Wheatgrass...

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. PATEL: A wheatgrass-tini.

MARTIN: ...tini. That's it. That's what's up.

Mr. PATEL: Right.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Nihar.

Mr. PATEL: You know, I think when President Obama comes to L.A., everyone's concern, really, is: How is this going to affect traffic? And, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PATEL: The traffic jams on the West Side yesterday were pretty intense, and every Facebook update I saw pretty much related to that. But I want to go back to the, you know, to the Facebook town hall meeting. I looked around on Facebook to all my 800-plus friends - not to brag - 800-plus friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Only 800, bro? Go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PATEL: And I can't really find anybody who watched this thing. It seems like it's similar to a lot of other town hall meetings that I see, that unless there's a very quotable thing that emerges, you really only get the sensation of being there if you're actually there, or if your question is asked. I mean, you know, I just don't know if these town hall meetings - and of course, the fundraising in California is always a good ATM for Democratic candidates. But you know, I just don't - I mean, did you guys watch it? I saw clips on MSNBC and FOX and CNN...

MARTIN: Yeah, we get paid to watch it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Exactly.

MARTIN: I'm not trying to be mean; we get paid to watch it. Can I just say this, though, before we move on? I think it's funny - to me - that, you know, presidential communications is like childbirth. No matter what you do, as long as it's different from what the other guy did, you're wrong - or girl. You're wrong. You know what I mean? It's like people are fundamentally conservative about this kind of thing. Like whatever you do that is not the old thing, you're wrong until you're right, until people like it. It's like, oh, anesthesia. Oh, no. You shouldn't have anesthesia when you give birth because you should experience the pain of childbirth.

Mr. PATEL: And then when you get there, you're like, where's the needle?

MARTIN: Where's the needle? And then it's like, oh, no, you know, you shouldn't, you know, have a doula or have music playing because you're supposed to blah, blah. It's like whatever you do that's not the old thing that the guy before you did, you're wrong. So it's like you guys are...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, every guy that I've ever heard talk about childbirth had the exact, same problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: I'm just waiting for the Republican backlash against Facebook, and they all move back to MySpace in response.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Oh, snap.

Mr. TORRE: Donald Trump is on Friendster right now.

Mr. PATEL: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're listening we're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre, and journalist and screenwriter Nihar Patel. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK, well, from federal budget battles to fights of another kind...

(Soundbite of screeching cat noise)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...the filmmaker Tyler Perry is out promoting his new movie, and he has some choice words for fellow director Spike Lee this week. Michel, we got some tape, right?

MARTIN: We do. We do have - for people who aren't familiar - the eight people - Tyler Perry has had this genre of films that not only I mean, he also did "For Colored Girls" too, which we talked about a couple of times. But these Madea films that are based on these stage plays that he used to put on, you know, around the country, where he dresses up as Madea, this kind of grandmother character.

And he's like, 6 foot - he's like a 6-foot-5, African-American man, so that's the joke - you know, him with the wig. And then, of course, Spike Lee is the guy you know, the independent - the darling of independent films; you know, "Do The Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever," "She's Got To Have It," "Malcolm X," so forth like this. And so there is that.

So let me just mention that the reporter who asked this question at the press conference didn't mention Lee's name, that the reporter was asking a question about something completely different. But this is where Tyler Perry jumped in with his thoughts about Spike Lee. Here it is.

Mr. TYLER PERRY (Actor, Filmmaker): I'm so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee. Spike can go straight to hell. Everybody knows it. All ya'll can print that. I am sick of him talking about me. I am sick of him saying, this is a coon and a buffoon. I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies, you vote by - this what he said...

MARTIN: Now, can I just play another short clip, here? And I'm not tooting my own horn, but one of the things I found fascinating about this is that I actually interviewed Tyler Perry a couple of years ago, when I was sitting in for Neal Conan on TALK OF THE NATION. And a caller named Gary from Detroit said he thought Perry's work was offensive to black people and, you know, kind of demeaning. So I just want to play a short clip of Tyler Perry responding to Gary's criticism, and the tone is very different. I mean, here it is.

MARTIN: Do you find that painful? Do you find that question...

Mr. PERRY: No, not at all. Not at all. Not at all, because there are people who have their opinions, but there are millions and millions of fans who cannot be wrong, because they wouldn't keep supporting it. And I think what I have done is expose people - he says there's nothing new about it. Certainly, there's a lot new about this level of success, from initially, from African-American people. There's a whole lot that's new about that.

MARTIN: So that's what I thought that - you know what I'm saying? His tone is like, hey, whatever. You know, brush it off; brush it off, haters. But he's evidently - Spike pushed a button.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. I mean, you know, it's this thing where it's like, Tyler Perry versus Spike Lee - and thank you for that, Michel. And what I don't like about Spike Lee is, he wants to pretend that there's this that there's this some kind of black film renaissance going on and that he's like, the keeper of the black art-film aesthetic. And he's not - and nobody is.

Tyler Perry makes films to be entertaining. And to me, that's really the first job of a filmmaker. You know, Nihar, you write - you're a screenwriter. What do you think about that?

Mr. PATEL: Well, I think...

Mr. IZRAEL: Pregnant pause. Go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He's like, I'm trying to get somebody to hire me. I'm not trying to make anybody mad because...

Mr. PATEL: Yeah, exactly. Who can I not offend by this answer - that's what I think about. You know, I think -I'm trying to think about it from Spike Lee's perspective. And you know, Spike Lee made a lot of groundbreaking films and definitely films that, you know, I looked at as a child and thought, you know, wow. I couldn't believe that you could tell stories like this with people who weren't, you know, the standard Hollywood, you know, actor - white actor.

And you know, the Spike Lee Joint, you know, as a brand, always stuck in my head. And now, all you see is Tyler Perry Presents this, Tyler Perry Presents that. And you know, I would think that if I was Spike Lee, the fact that the Tyler Perry Presents brand has kind of emerged - and in some ways, takes the place of, you know, the Spike Lee Joint, at least as far as what is the most prominent brand in African-American filmmaking - you know, I would probably feel a little bit spurned, you know...

Mr. IZRAEL: So it's ego?

Mr. PATEL: So it's somewhat of a rejection of the fact that, you know, Spike Lee made these films. He, in some ways, moved the needle as far as what Hollywood and what American audiences thought, you know, African-American films could be. And now, anybody ever talks about is Tyler Perry Presents this, Tyler Perry Presents that. And, I mean, that's the go-to brand now.

MARTIN: I do have to point...

Mr. PATEL: And Spike Lee...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I do have to say that Spike Lee wasn't there. He didn't say anything...

Mr. PATEL: Exactly.

MARTIN: I mean, he has said otherwise that he doesn't that he feels that this is not adding to the genre. I mean, and my question is, why doesn't he have a right to say that? I mean, just like other journalists have a right to comment on my work and say this isn't what I think - you know, and they have. You know...

Mr. PATEL: And he absolutely, he absolutely does. And something I have noticed from watching Tyler Perry in interviews - and he was on Conan this week, and I watched the interview - is, he really feeds off that chip on his shoulder. I don't think I've ever seen an interview where he's on late night, where he hasn't pointed out that, you know, he was walking down the Oscar red carpet and nobody knew who he was; or he was backstage at the Oscars, and the guy thought he was, you know, the big kid from "The Blindside."

I mean, you know, there's always an instance, it seems like, where Tyler Perry is like, I'm not taken seriously. I don't, you know, belong among you, and I know that. And I know that, you know, behind my back, you think my films, you know, aren't at the level that they should be or you mock me or you know, there's just this sense that Tyler Perry, you know, will create the conflict, or Tyler Perry will feed off the conflict, you know, even if, you know, a reporter asks a question, and that he's not directly responding to Spike Lee.

Mr. IZRAEL: Tyler Perry wants his props. I'm not mad at him. Tyler Perry is one of the most successful black filmmakers - for what it's worth, you know - of our generation. And you know, he wants his props. He should take his props. You know, there's no way you should be mistaking him for the big kid in...

Mr. PATEL: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: ...or "The Green Mile," or Michael Duncan. You know, I mean, no. He's a brand. He's a brand.

Mr. TORRE: He should dress up as Madea on the red carpet.

MARTIN: No, I think that's interesting. But I know you guys want to talk about the playoffs, and so I'm going to move on from that. But I did want to say, you know, there is a class element to this that's interesting to kind of think about, on the one hand.

Mr. IZRAEL: Clearly, clearly.

MARTIN: Because Tyler's saying, look, people like my work. What's your problem? And Spike's saying, can't we do better? You know, why can't we have films that are more important, more interesting, more nuanced than this? And so I do think that, you know, I think both those conversations are worth having. You know?

Mr. PATEL: Absolutely.

MARTIN: I don't know why people have to be - I'd like to hear the two of them talk about it together. So, anyway...

MR. PATEL: That's not going to happen.

MARTIN: Come on TELL ME MORE. We're happy to host it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. So Jimi, what else you got?

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, Major League Baseball, it's taken control over the Los Angeles Dodgers because quote, there are some deep concerns about the financial trouble of the team owner, Frank McCourt, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah, you guys have to school me on this. Apparently, McCourt had to borrow $30 million to meet payroll. Since his ownership began in 2004, he's burdened the team with more than $400 million in debt. And you all think I have a lot of shoes. The back story has to do with a very ugly divorce. It seems like a soap opera. I don't know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. That'll do it.

MARTIN: I didn't know about this until Pablo started talking about it. Go ahead.

Mr. TORRE: Completely. No, it's completely a soap opera. It's a made-for-L.A. sordid tale. And it's funny because the Dodgers aren't really a bad team. They've averaged, I think, like 87 wins over the last seven years under the McCourts. But the problem is that this divorce proceeding, and the fact that he doesn't have any money, has led Bud Selig to reach behind the curtain - from out from behind the curtain, as it were, and sort of lightly put his hand on the eject button underneath Frank McCourt's chair.

And that's just something that doesn't happen very often. I mean, this is baseball taking advantage of the Grand Oz-like powers it has to say, this is just too embarrassing, too damaging to a brand - and quite frankly, too insolvent to go on. And the really funny thing is that Dodger fans love this. Most of the time, a fan of a team really would be, you know, they would be, they would be a little put off by this sort of unilateral action by the commissioner.

But at this case, it's so embarrassing, it's so bad, L.A. has suffered so much from this ownership group really running the team in all the intangible ways and financial ways into the ground, that they're all too happy to see it -hopefully - move on swiftly, and soon.

Mr. PATEL: That's interesting.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, this is Arsalan. There's a special clause within Bud Selig's power. It's called the quote, the Best Interest Of Baseball clause. And it's really interesting. So he's basically trying to invoke the Best Interest Of Baseball clause to try and facilitate the sale of the Dodgers.

And what's interesting to note is, if he does invoke the sale of the Dodgers, he's still going to need the backing of three-fourths of the 30 Major League Baseball owners. And so you know, there is an element of consensus, you know, that will be necessary in order to move this forward. This is not you know, a completely unilateral action.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. And God knows, those owners don't necessarily want to have those special interests run down upon them in the future.

MARTIN: Can I just quickly ask Nihar: You're out in L.A; do people care? Do they care about this? Are they like - what do they care?

Mr. PATEL: Oh. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think the Lakers right now are top of mind. But you know, I think initially, there was a lot of embarrassment that Bud Selig had to intervene like this. But I agree that overwhelmingly, people are unhappy with Frank McCourt's leadership. And even from day one, I didn't meet a lot of Dodger fans who thought, you know, he was the right owner - especially compared to Peter O'Malley and Red the Great, two...

MARTIN: I'm available. I'm available. I could do it. I could do it. I wouldn't bring the drama. I'm very stable. I can handle it, I'm sure. Before we go, the NBA playoffs are in full swing. People are saying that - Pablo - this is the best season in years. True? Yes?

Mr. TORRE: Great, great opening round. We're going to have the Knicks against Arsalan's Celtics tonight...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Down 0-2, baby.

Mr. TORRE: ...to deliver the first playoff win in Knicks history - in a decade for the Knicks, which seems like history.

MARTIN: Well...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Go Celtics.

MARTIN: Go Celtics. You know what? I didn't get my buzzer last time we talked about the playoffs. Can I have my buzzer, please?

(Soundbite of buzzer)

MARTIN: Awesome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist, and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Remember to check out his blog entry today at NPR.org. Click on Programs, then TELL ME MORE. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He was with us from our studios in New York. And Nihar Patel is a journalist and writer for Current TV Network's comedic news show "Infomania." He was with us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of the Muslimguy.com, and managing editor of The Crescent Post. He was with us in our Washington, D.C., studio. Thanks, everybody.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks, Michel.

Mr. PATEL: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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