Lifestyles & Trends: The State Of Black Entertainment While Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes To Jail" was a box office hit this past weekend, raking in more than $41 million dollars, ABC gave a preview of their new midseason replacement shows and we didn't see one person of color. NPR's Allison Samuels discusses the week's entertainment news with NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates.
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Lifestyles & Trends: The State Of Black Entertainment

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Lifestyles & Trends: The State Of Black Entertainment

Lifestyles & Trends: The State Of Black Entertainment

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is News & Notes. It's Friday, so we get to touch on the lighter side of things today. To that end, our own maven of the entertainment beat - I like that - Allison Samuels, right here in the studio with me. Hey, Allison.

ALLISON SAMUELS: Hey, Tony. The Oscars took place last weekend, and they were fairly predictable, as expected. But something surprising did happen over the weekend.

(Soundbite of movie "Madea Goes to Jail")

Mr. TYLER PERRY: (As Madea) I guess to nobody told you that I'm Madea, Muh-to-the-damn-D-E-A(ph).

SAMUELS: That's right; Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" was a box-office hit this weekend, raking in over $41 million. And ABC gave a preview of their new midseason replacement shows at the end of the Academy Awards, and we didn't see one person of color. Joining me to discuss all of this is NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates. Hi, Karen.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Hey, Allison. Hi, Tony.

SAMUELS: "Madea Goes to Jail" is in stark contrast with the films we saw honored by the Academy Awards. Do you think Hollywood is still surprised when Tyler Perry makes so much money?

GRIGSBY BATES: I think they have stopped being surprised, because he's made a couple of movies before now and they made goo gobs of money. And they kept looking and say, how could this happen? How could this happen? Well, the reason this happened is that Tyler doesn't leave the marketing up to somebody else. He goes out, and he is very hands-on about this. He's kind of like President Obama was in terms of marketing through the Internet. I'm always getting emails from Tyler Perry saying, God be blessed; my movies are doing great; please go out and see it if you haven't already; take your grandmother. So, that's why he made $40 million.

SAMUELS: Well, also, $40 million, that's a lot. Is that just African-Americans, or is that crossover?

GRIGSBY BATES: You know, there may be a little bit of crossover. I still think that the rest of the world outside the black community in general isn't quite getting Tyler Perry yet. But they don't need to when he's making that kind of money. And I think, frankly, he's been so good at marketing that all you need is a couple of mega churches saying, OK, after brunch, we're going to go see Tyler Perry, and there you go, ka-ching(ph) 40 million.

SAMUELS: Is that why he's been so successful? I mean, is that the key to his success, just sort of knowing how to promote and who to promote to?

GRIGSBY BATES: You know, I interviewed him a couple of years ago when I was on Day to Day, when "Madea Goes to Jail" was actually a play here in the Kodak Theatre, and it was fuller than the Kodak was on Oscars night. There was not one empty seat. People had saved up. They were coming, and the reason they came - he firmly believes - the reason they came is that he doesn't talk down to them, that he's doing theater that he says his relatives would like to see, and in this case, movies that his relatives would like to see, because he says, you know, I go see "Hamlet;" I go see, you know, serious stuff. My relatives ain't going to see that; they want something more fun. And so, this is what people want.

SAMUELS: Well, it's interesting because Hollywood has a history; when something works, they try to duplicate it. But this seems like this would be a little harder to duplicate because he developed such a core audience over the course of years. This is not - didn't happen overnight.

GRIGSBY BATES: Although he is not the first black guy in a dress...


GRIGSBY BATES: I mean, if you look back to Flip Wilson...


GRIGSBY BATES: To Jamie Foxx, to...

SAMUELS: Martin Lawrence.

GRIGSBY BATES: The Wayans brothers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAMUELS: Yeah, yeah.

GRIGSBY BATES: You know, there's been this - this is going on for awhile. For some reason, we think men in dresses is pretty funny, and you know, as black folks, we think men in dresses can be very funny. I've heard some women object to what Madea actually looks like. They think that Tyler has gone over the top with the huge breasts and a huge booty and all the rest of that. But people still go to see it.

SAMUELS: Well, I was wondering, though, with his success of the last few years why we haven't seen Hollywood embrace - because he had a hard time getting a deal early on.


SAMUELS: Do you think that the next guy who has that same type of, sort of, plan, do you think he would have an easier time because of Tyler Perry?

GRIGSBY BATES: Maybe marginally, but I'm a cynic when it comes to Hollywood, and I don't think so.


GRIGSBY BATES: You know, if you think back to the movie "Hollywood Shuffle," when they had all these actors from the Royal Dramatic Academy with - reading their resumes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRIGSBY BATES: And the producers are saying, well, what we're really looking for is somebody who is more like an Eddie Murphy, Murphy-ronic(ph), you know?

SAMUELS: Right, right.

GRIGSBY BATES: I don't know if they're going to look for somebody who's Tyler-Perr-ic(ph) out there. They may feel like as long as he's producing prolifically, and he is, they don't need another one, but they may be looking for the next thing after Tyler Perry.


GRIGSBY BATES: I mean, you know, a couple of years ago, Jeff Zucker told me Tracy Morgan was going to be the biggest black star I'd ever seen, thanks to the "Tracy Morgan Show" that was going to start on NBC, and that lasted for how long, and where did he go after that?

SAMUELS: Right. That's a good - next question. I mentioned that after the Oscars they did a big clip showing all the midseason replacement shows, and there wasn't one face of color on any of the clips. And I'm wondering, in this day of Obama, how can we still be in that same place, where we can put shows on national television and still not have a minority on them?

GRIGSBY BATES: Well, number one, the brother's only been in office for about five weeks...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRIGSBY BATES: And he's doing the economy first. He can't fix everything.

SAMUELS: Well, that's true.

GRIGSBY BATES: But number two, I think the shows that did have black presence are shows that either have black writers or directors or somebody up high on the food chain that has the sensibility to say, look, the world outside this box looks a different kind of way, and if we have this monochromatic cast and crew, then after awhile people are going to go away. So, I think that your big successes, for instance, have been the ensemble shows - the cop shows, the forensic shows, the "Grey's Anatomy," its spin off, "Private Practice" - and now "Grey's" and "Private" had a black show writer - have a black show writer Shonda Rhimes, but these other shows - a lot of the ensemble shows often have black directors or black producers; there's some black sensibility in there somewhere.

SAMUELS: To your point of, he just got into office; he ran at a campaign for two years that brought on race as a subject, you know, frequently. So, you would think the producers and directors would have, sort of, figured out people are interested in this.

GRIGSBY BATES: Let's think about the world of producers and the directors live in. You know, when they go home, they go home to largely segregated neighborhoods; they have circles of friends that are in the business, which means they're mostly looking at white people when they go to these parties; and you know, the few black and brown and yellow faces that are there are sort of their foray into the world of color. This is my Asian friend, Janice; this is my black friend so and so. I mean, they don't say that, but it's pretty clear that these are, you know, that these are isolated incidences.

SAMUELS: One last quick question. Reality shows do have their share of African-Americans on them, sometimes not shown in the most positive of lights, but what do you think - is that good or bad, or how is that going to sort of expand(ph)?

GRIGSBY BATES: You know, I don't have a problem with reality shows, because I think they are equal-opportunity humiliate-ors. You know, you can be white, rich and clueless on "Real Housewives of Orange County," or you can be black, rich and clueless on "Real Housewives of Atlanta," and you still look pretty stupid at the end of the day. So, as long as you're not singling people of color out to be their example of chromatic stupidity, I'm OK with it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SAMUELS: So, equal-opportunity stupidity, is that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRIGSBY BATES: Equal-opportunity stupidity. Now, I'd like for us to move in the other direction and have some equal-opportunity showcasing and some equal-opportunity depth of character, but if they're doing uni-dimensional and everybody's uni-dimensional, I don't care if we've got all different color cartoons up there.

SAMUELS: OK. And that - from the way it looks, that is sort of where we're getting our work, African-Americans, is on the reality shows. So, that is one bright spot for us.

GRIGSBY BATES: Reality and teeny cable. One hopes that when Oprah's network starts up, that there'll be some more work for people of color...


GRIGSBY BATES: But you know, right now it's not looking so good.

SAMUELS: Well, thank you, Karen. That was NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates. She joined me here at the studios of NPR West.

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