Take note of the public interactions between Spike Lee and Tyler Perry over the last few years and you will find out a lot about black men in America and how we deal with each other. And you will see why some of our problems are so stubborn and resistant to resolution. Here’s the good news: the story has a happy ending. The bad news is that it was UGLY at its height. I mean UGLY- like a toothless crack whore that just switched to meth for a stronger kick, ugly. It was terrible. Spike Lee was running his mouth so loud and so long about Tyler Perry’s films that I half expected to turn on the news one day and see Tyler being led away in handcuffs with his Madea wig on because he’d finally had enough and snapped Spike’s neck like a twig. And if you have seen these guys in person, you know full well that only Tyler’s Christian patience and the love of Oprah kept that from happening. If they were canines, Tyler would be the genteel Great Dane and Spike would be the yapping Yorkie- that THINKS it is a Great Dane.
But let me be clear about something because it is probably obvious which way I am leaning on the rift between these guys. I am a big supporter of Spike’s work and I like the brother. He is sorely underrated and underappreciated but he really is a cinematic genius. He is truly the father of modern black cinema. The first legitimate filmmaker (that was not a Hollywood star first) of the post-blaxploitaion era, he broke ground as an independent filmmaker and all of the brothers and sisters that have made films since then owe him a debt of gratitude. And if Spike could have cooled his heels and listened before he started firing his guns, he would have heard Tyler Perry make that point himself on more than one occasion during his meteoric rise in the film industry. But a part of Spike’s appeal is his confrontational nature and his combative style despite his small stature. Just like his character in his cult-classic Mo’ Betta Blues, his alligator mouth could easily have gotten his hummingbird ass whipped. And even though I’m glad it didn’t go down like that, Spike really had it coming.
I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes Summation: When Tyler Perry was blowing up in cinema, Spike had become almost an afterthought. Long gone were the days when people knew for months in advance when a Spike Lee Joint was hitting the theaters and ALL black folks just had to see it because they knew everybody would be talking about it. Well after being THE MAN in black cinema for so long, it could not have felt good to see what was unfolding right before his tortoise shell rimmed spectacles: Some guy who didn’t go to film school, never interned in film, and got famous making chittlin’ circuit style stage plays was all the rage while he was clinging to relevancy.
And what hurt the most is that it was black folks that were doing it. There was no copping out and blaming the white man this time. This was not white folks picking winners and losers amongst black folks as is so often the case in other areas of life and busness. No: black audiences absolutely LOVED Tyler and were absolutely IGNORING Spike. So when troublemaking reporters started asking Spike questions about Tyler, Spike stayed true to his loud-mouthed Brooklyn roots and went in. I won’t waste time and space recounting too much of it here but if you saw the word “Bufoonery” and “Coonery” invented specifically to be thrown at you and your movies over and over again by somebody you never did anything to, you would probably feel pretty raw about it. And this onslaught went on for years. Every time Tyler came out with a movie, some jerk-off reporter would ask Spike about it and ‘let the beatings begin.’ Until finally, Tyler responded to the unsolicited feedback and the unwarranted attacks by simply telling a reporter that Spike “could go straight to hell.” That’s what a nice guy he is. A dude is popping off at him, and needs a few teeth knocked out and he just tells a third party that that guy can go to hell.
After a couple of years passed- which for Tyler meant a couple of more hit movies and a couple of more TV series and for Spike meant a couple of more times to take shots at Tyler – each did an appearance on OWN where they were interviewed by The O herself. She has known both men for years and in her way has been an enormous help to them both in achieving their success- even partnering with them on ventures. Nobody knows all the details but shortly thereafter Spike actually paid a visit to Tyler’ home where he was greeted in pure Tyler fashion: He opened the door, saw Spike and shouted over to the maid in his shrill Madea voice “Jenny, go in that closet and bring me my damned shovel!” Apparently, they laughed, had a talk, squashed it and have lived in peace ever since. A few years back Spike even intimated that he wanted to work with Tyler one day. How sweet. That is a very nice story but don’t miss the lessons for brothers to heed:
1- Jealousy can consume you until it converts you into a lesser version of yourself, so do your thing and don’t worry about his thing, whatever it is; and
2- Seek the counsel of a smart woman who is down for you but doesn’t need you, and who genuinely wishes you well; Her brain is not all juiced up with testosterone and she can think straight when you can’t; and
3- Don’t try to stand tall by putting another brother down; Be big on your own regardless of what the next man is doing or how he is doing it; and lastly
4- Brothers can’t be throwing salt on each other- you know we all got high blood pressure.