Sunday, July 08, 2007

chasing kismet

some time ago, i got a phone call from shell white. it seems that her ft. greene neighborhood was plastered with posters for a movie that she'd never heard of. none of the other white people she knew had ever heard of it, either. all of the black people were talking about it everywhere she went -- so she called me for an explanation.

"that's tyler perry," i yawned. "it's his first movie, diary of a mad black woman. i'm sure it'll be huge." that's when i tried to change the subject. but shell wouldn't let me.

one of his big splashy theater piece/gospel musical DVDs was always running in the background at somebody's momma's house, somebody's bbq, somebody's backyard get-together, somebody's weekend social: a big black man (6'7") in a dress playing a big black woman, shooting guns off onstage, smoking pot and cussin' people out and carrying on, while some high drama unfolds that usually involves some long suffering black woman, her ne'er do well black man and of course, a slut. all of their extended families are involved as well, so there's a lot to laugh at, evidently. and because tyler is a southerner, there's redemption for someone and a big gospel send-up at the end.

i can recall conversations that i'd had with many a blactress after i joined the union who were seriously considering renouncing their Equity affiliation to do theater on the chitlin circuit -- or at least work illegally under another name -- and they encouraged me to do so, too. in a way, it made sense. for the kind of money a broadway star like nathan lane gets, you could have a supporting role in one of tyler perry's shows. with a $100 million in revenue, he could certainly afford to pay you. everybody knows that broadway has been in the red and hemmoraging money for years. the urban theater circuit, on the other hand, is swimming in cash and is totally -- pardon the pun -- in the black.

on the other hand, those shows were craptastic spectacles of lowbrow minstrelsy in the highest order: bawdy, trashy and -- i have to admit it -- fun. don't get me wrong: i'm especially pleased to see one of us make it in the entertainment industry on our own terms. when he went to hollywood and vyed for a production deal, they told him that his audience didn't go to the movies. so he made his own, for less than $5 million. over $50 million gross later, every white anybody in hollywood is wondering who he is. so yes. that's a lot to be glad about. as black folk in atlanta are quick to tell you, tyler perry's house is bigger than oprah's.

but i'm not about to make him out to be something that he isn't. tyler perry getting over makes him a great businessman, maybe -- but it doesn't make him a genius. no one is mistaking jackie collins for joyce carol oates, so why should i ever mistake him for august wilson? i can go to his shows and laugh like everybody else. why not? it's fun stuff.

the more i told shell, the more intrigued she became. all of her questions seemed to be leading to, what's behind all this?

"this is what you need, queen esther," shell said. "you need that grass roots explosion." and i'm thinking, sure. i mean, don't we all? but you can't manufacture that. what she saw out her front window with those posters was years in the making. she could walk down the street and feel the electricity of it all from the black people in the neighborhood and she wanted to examine the anatomy of their excitement close up. i wasn't sure if she could.

now that i stand on the verge of going into the studio, i've given that conversation with shell a lot of thought. i know myself well enough to know that if i record/mix/master it with no outside financial backing, i'm not going to just listen to it around the house -- i'm going to have to release it, too. and that really freaks me out because i actually know what it takes to do it the right way this time. i was flying by the seat of my pants with the last one -- my first effort -- so mistakes were made and thankfully, i learned from them. but if i knew then what i know now, i probably wouldn't have done it at all. it's when you come out of the studio that the work begins. but work and kismet are two completely different things. chasing kismet can age you, blind you to the basics in some instances, and for the most part, make you appear to be more than just a little desperate. chasing kismet can wear you out.

as far as i can tell, it's like being a part of a champion tag-team partnership: the work is on me, but kismet? that's God's job.

sure, tyler perry created his own genre, film-wise -- a black Christian romantic revenge comedy -- but it's kismet is what shell was alluding to, when she saw that sea of movie posters on her block. i am fairly convinced that kismet is the one thing that no one has any control of. someone told me once that if i got closer to God, i'd get closer to my kismet. hm.

"we have to see this movie," shell blurted. i agreed -- but only if we saw it at the magic johnson theater in harlem. i knew that she wouldn't get the gist of the movie unless she were surrounded by a bunch of black folk, and harlem did not disappoint me. as you can well imagine, it was quite a hoot. in spite of the fact that the place was fairly empty, sisters were present and they were on. heh.

at the end of the day, i'm left knowing that God will give me whatever i'm supposed to have -- and i won't ever have to chase what's mine.

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