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Thread: Media Matters...Tyler Perry's Crack Mothers

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    Media Matters...Tyler Perry's Crack Mothers

    February 27, 2010
    OP-ED COLUMNIST
    Tyler Perry’s Crack Mothers

    By CHARLES M. BLOW
    Mo’Nique is a favorite to win an Oscar next Sunday for her powerful and disturbing portrayal of an abusive mother in the movie “Precious.”

    If she wins, I may grit my teeth at the depraved depiction, but at least her character is merely juxtaposed with the crack scourge and isn't in fact an addict. That's heartening since the crack-addicted black mother has recently made a curious comeback.

    There was a time when this character was more relevant: in the 1980s and 1990s when the crack epidemic plunged whole communities into violence, fear and chaos. (To be fair, “Precious” is set in the 1980s.) But this character now feels like a refugee of time — and discordant with the facts on the ground.

    In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan pushed the crack-baby myth. In 1991, “Boyz in the Hood” and “New Jack City” were released. In 1995, the late Tupac Shakur released “Dear Mama” in which he rapped: “Even as a crack fiend, mama/You always was a black queen, mama.” Part of its poetry was that it was impossible to tell if this was an address or a lament.

    And then there was Whitney Houston’s breathtaking decline, and her infamous 2002 “crack is whack,” “I want to see the receipts” interview with Diane Sawyer. Receipts for crack, Whitney? Poor thing.

    That seemed a sort of cultural end cap, and data suggest that it was with good reason.

    A National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a report released last week, found that young black adults ages 18 to 25 years old were less likely to use illicit drugs than the national average. (For those doing the math, you’re right. Those are the children born during the crack epidemic.)

    Also, a 2007 study of college undergraduates published in the Journal of Ethnicity and Substance Abuse found that young blacks’ rates of illicit drug use was substantially lower than their counterparts, with black women having the lowest rates of all.

    Furthermore, data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that of the total admissions to treatment services for crack use, blacks outpaced whites in 1996, but whites outpaced blacks in 2005 for those under 30 years old.

    Then came Tyler Perry with his inexplicable fascination with this cliché, and his almost single-handed revival of it.

    In the last five years, he has featured a crack-addicted black mother who leaves her children in two of his films and on his very popular sitcom, “House of Payne.” (In one of the films, the character is referred to but never seen.) In another film, a main character is a drug-addicted prostitute. And in yet another, a mother leaves her family for the drug dealer.

    It should be noted that “Precious” is “co-presented” by Perry.

    Let it go, Mr. Perry. These never-ending portrayals perpetuate the modern mythology that little has changed when much has. Even for Whitney.

    Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly described Mo'Nique's character in the movie "Precious." She was not a crack addict.



    I invite you to visit my blog, By the Numbers. Please also join me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/opinion/27blow.html
    Last edited by BrazenMuse; 02-27-2010 at 08:43 AM.
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    Now: I admit to not having seen the movie yet. I don't generally care for Tyler Perry after seeing some of his earlier work. But I am hearing a great deal from well-meaning educators about how "Precious" reminded them or helped them see "what our students are up against" - if it causes compassionate action, then I can't argue it down. If it engenders pity, then there's a problem.

    What I saw of Tyler Perry's work deals in too many stereotypes ...look up "Ethnic Notions" by Marlon Riggs on Youtube if you are fuzzy on why I might say that...

    I'm glad Blow realized that the character wasn't a crack addict...and I'm not altogether sure that the early error invalidates his other points...what say you? I am often made uncomfortable by the level at which pop culture images can dominate the thinking of even the most well-meaning people...because they haven't seen images to counterbalance the exaggerations...be mad at how Cosby did his show...but he had a point - the positive images weren't out there. There weren't many then and I'd argue we could use more now...Bernie Mac made sense in so many ways...

    Any of you see "Precious"? Any of you involved in conversations about the movie? What have you heard people say? What do you think? I'm interested in the perpetuation/propagation of stereotypes as much as I'm interested in the fact that Blow quotes those drug abuse numbers...

    I recall that in high school and college (late 70s, early 80s), the African-American kids were the pot heads and drank along with that, some did a little coke in some form...the European-American kids did anything anyone came up with, from pills washed down by liquor to powders, needles to smoke. I remember the African-American kids being horrified once they came to live in proximity to their European-American counterparts...wondering why getting drunk enough to pass out was a good idea...

    Is there a reason that these images have made such a comeback recently? Did they make the comeback Blow is claiming? They were big in the 80s and fed into all sorts of fears (Willie Horton, anyone?)...
    Last edited by BrazenMuse; 02-27-2010 at 08:49 AM.
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    www.myspace.com/brazenmuse
    www.myspace.com/feliciatemple
    www.myspace.com/robdanoizetemple
    http://www.youtube.com/feliciatemple
    Louie "Lou" Gorbea:
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    Mark Mendoza (280 West): markmendozamixes.blogspot.com
    "I'd rather have the kind of clear conscience that comes from doing what's right than the kind that comes from ignoring what's wrong." Me...8/13/07

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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the movie "Precious" takes place in the late 80's / early 90's, at the height of the so-called "black crack mother, black disfunctional family" epidemic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Johnson View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the movie "Precious" takes place in the late 80's / early 90's, at the height of the so-called "black crack mother, black disfunctional family" epidemic.
    It does. It's based on the book Push...which came out late 80s or early 90s, if I recall correctly. Blow mentions this...but ties it to some broader issues...Blow is in an odd position here bc when he first wrote this, he had to correct the article re Precious' mother...but I do feel that overall, the article raises an interesting point about the problem of certain kinds of media portrayals...
    www.myspace.com/templedynasty
    www.myspace.com/brazenmuse
    www.myspace.com/feliciatemple
    www.myspace.com/robdanoizetemple
    http://www.youtube.com/feliciatemple
    Louie "Lou" Gorbea:
    http://www.podomatic.com/profile/lgorbea and http://lougorbea.com/
    Mark Mendoza (280 West): markmendozamixes.blogspot.com
    "I'd rather have the kind of clear conscience that comes from doing what's right than the kind that comes from ignoring what's wrong." Me...8/13/07

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