October 03, 2008

Crabs in a Barrel

So, first, let's get to the facts:

A few days ago, Tyler Perry fired a bunch of black writers from his cable sitcom "House of Payne". In response, the Writers Guild of America just filed suit against Perry with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging unfair labor practices. Perry says the writers were fired because of the quality of their work. The writers say they were fired because they were pushing to have the show covered under a WGA contract.

When I first heard this, I did a double-take. The highest rated sit-com on basic cable is a non-union show?

But, as I researched it more, it was even worse than I thought.

"House of Payne" is a DGA signatory. Of course it is: Tyler directs most of the episodes, and he's a member of the Directors' Guild, so it would have to be.

"House of Payne" is also a SAG signatory. Of course it is: if it wasn't, he couldn't have cast actors like Allen Payne, who, like most of his castmates, are members of the Screen Actors Guild.

But, "House of Payne" is NOT a WGA signatory.

I mean, the one group that he COULD screw, he DID screw.

Now, to be totally fair, a number of the fired writers are WGAw members, so, they really had no business working on a non-union show in the first place, unless, of course, part of their agreement when they were hired was that the show would become a guild signatory. The guild has provisions to allow for that. And, if I had to guess, that is probably the essence of the case they're bringing to the NLRB.

Tyler recently signed a deal with TBS to create 100 episodes of "House of Payne" for $200 million, or $2,000,000 per episode. The WGA considers a show a "high budget minimum" if its budget exceeds $100,000 per episode for non-network primetime, in which case, the guild minimum fee for writing one such episode is ~$12,000. It also requires that, if you're on staff, meaning you're under the regular employ of the producer instead of a hired gun who's brought in on a one-off basis to write an episode, your minimum weekly salary for a basic cable show of this length is roughly $3,000.

Plus health benefits, pension, etc.

Pretty good work if you can get it. But even if you assume they make an episode a week (and they clearly work much faster, given how many they've produced in the last two years), and let's assume that the pension & health insurance costs as much as the total salary & writing fees involved for these writers (and it's considerably less), and you round up to the nearest $10,000, you're still only talking about $50,000 per episode, or 2.5% of the total budget per episode.

And it's not like House of Payne is an expensive show. It's a three camera comedy, meaning they have a series of standing sets in front of a studio audience with two stationary cameras and a third on a track, so that the actors get to perform almost like it's theater. No expensive locations. No special effects. Allen Payne is probably the highest paid actor on the show after Tyler Perry himself, and I guarantee you that brother is not making a million dollars an episode.

But let's put all of that aside for a moment.

For a guy who's built his career around promoting a certain kind of Black Christian faith and community responsibility....

I just don't understand.

Just like BET. Actually, worse than BET. At least BET is more up front about the fact that they're making money by getting over on Black people.

I was never particularly a fan of Tyler Perry's work. The minute I'm shown yet another Black man in drag for laughs, I immediately turn off. I think this trend, going all the way back to Flip Wilson, and continued through Will Smith & Martin Lawrence, has always been a double-edged diss against Black people. It perpetuates a de-feminized stereotype of Black women & mothers while simultaneously emasculating some of our more prominent Black male performers. And yet, I always had respect for him as an artist and a businessman who'd found a way to successfully navigate the entertainment industry while still owning his original content. I was really happy to see him succeed in film, especially as his films seem to reach for more authentic representations of Black relationships.

But come ON, man!!!! Pay the fucking writers! It's not like you don't have it.


Wrapped in the Flag

Comic Book Resources is running a poll on who should play Captain America in the new movie slated for 2010. So far, here are the results:

And I have to say, I don't like the idea of any of these guys as Captain America, even though many of them are actors I really enjoy and respect.

Pardon me while I think out loud for a bit.

Here's the deal: Captain America is a scrawny blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid who grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan during the Great Depression who gets injected with some super steroids by Uncle Sam to become a patriotic juggernaut against the forces of tyranny during the 2nd World War before being frozen in suspended animation and thawed out in modern times. He's like a character out of a Mickey Rooney movie who gets transformed into the one superhero that every other superhero instantly defers to as soon as they're in his presence.

May favorite line about Captain America comes from the 1st issue of Mark Millar's genius re-imagining of The Avengers in "The Ultimates", where a paratrooper about to be dropped into a Nazi hot zone calls Cap crazy to his sidekick, Bucky Barnes, for not wearing a parachute.

Bucky just laughs and says "Cap things chutes are for sissies."

Or, better yet, towards the end of that same series, where a villain demands that he surrender, a bloodied Cap points to the "A" printed on his mask and shouts:

"You think this letter on my head stands for FRANCE?!?!?!"

So, which of those actors can you imagine believably pulling off that role in the same way that you just nodded in total agreement about the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man? Honestly, the closest to it would be Matthew McConaughey - he's whitebread enough and, judging by his performance in "Reign of Fire" he can do intensity, but he's bit too southern to play a New Yorker, and he doesn't really have the steel in his eyes that I would want for that character.

Aaron Eckhart is pretty close, but just perhaps a bit older than I would want, simply because I have a hard time seeing him doing much of the fighting & stuntwork that goes into Captain America. Although, to be perfectly honest, Tim Roth did a great job as kind of a proto-super soldier in "The Incredible Hulk" this summer, but that was only in one scene against a CGI Hulk. Personally, I want the scene where Cap wades into a gang of 30 Hydra agents and hands them their collective asses like a red-white-and-blue fighting whirling dervish, and I want it as authentic as the fighting Messrs. Bale & Nolan put together in "The Dark Knight".

I love Wil Smith, but, I'm sorry, Captain America is not Black. Period.

Hmmm. Eric Bana? No, that would be like casting a Yankee to play James Bond.

Frankly, I don't think you need a big name. In fact, I think it's better that you go with an unknown and let him create the role.

How about Timothy Olyphant? Anybody who's seen "Deadwood" knows he's an intense bugger, can get physical, and is a heck of an actor. But, to be perfectly honest, I really want him for "Green Lantern" - he was born to play cocky test pilot Hal Jordan.

OK, now I'm really rambling. :-) I'll have a LOT more to say about Green Lantern at a later date.

The short answer is "Go with an unknown, Marvel". Captain America is not Iron Man. Everybody knows who that character is, so you don't need a star to sell the movie.