Hollywood loves to portray black men as unreliable womanizers. Apparently none of these black men are deserving of any respect. They are cast a lot like the sort of losers who air their dirty linen on The Jerry Springer Show. That show has a never-ending supply of such men, and Hollywood loves the stereotype.
This type of Hollywood adventure is often played with a revenge-theme and directors take a real delight in that portrayal. Think Waiting to Exhale, Two Can Play That Game, or Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Such female empowerment flicks generally lave the men brow-beaten and in need of an image boost, if not a complete overhaul.
Now, with Diary of a Tired Black Man, comes the old switcheroo. It is positioned as a half-documentary-half melodrama and it is fascinating.
Diary of a Tired Black Man is the directorial debut of Tim Alexander. He generated breathless anticipation ahead of this controversial picture’s release by publishing a three-minute trailer on the internet.
That three-minute teaser captured the explosion of lead character James, played by Jimmy Jean-Louis. James, frustrated because he’s being dogged by his ex-wife, Tanya, played by Paula Lema, and her girlfriends because he showed up with a white woman to pick up his daughter during a custody exchange.
So here’s how he handled that. He didn’t even react to their attack, as if it never happened or he didn’t hear it. Calmly, he pauses to address Tanya and her Amen chorus of supporters. Speaking in a measured tone of voice, he makes sure he gets in the last word, telling them that he had been, and still is, an excellent though unappreciated provider.
Alexander cleverly made that trailer from the beginning of the full-length movie. He opens with the trailer scene, but then he goes off-script to what many might expect to happen next. Rather than than launch into the modern morality play immediately, he ingeniously used a brilliant cinematic device to heighten the already palpable tension.
After this point of departure, he freezes the action to reveal man-in-the-street interviews featuring fan reaction to the commercial, comments drawn from footage he shot while crossing the country with a hand-held camera.
He uses this same clever switch throughout the movie. Brilliant!
So, essentially half of what we see onscreen is a documentary of everyday folks from all walks of life, men and women, weighing-in on the battle-of-the-sexes. And these remarks, ranging from the profane to the profound and from the silly to the sobering, prove to be every bit as telling as the fictional front story.
In one of these cases, a young woman is quick to question whether there are any good black men out there. To solidify her point, she refers to a married guy she dated for two years, calling him first “typical” and then, an “effed-up, trifling-ass Negro.”
This is perfect fodder for Tim Alexander, because she is then asked why she would enter into such an ill-fated, illicit liaison in the first place. She can only say that she “fell in love.” Obviously, the audience concludes that she’s just as much to blame for her lot in life as all the black men she just dissed.
To Tim Alexander’s credit, he shows multiple points of view, including conversations with some African-American women who don’t freak out when asked about the behavior of black men. One woman forcefully makes the case that, “Not every black woman walking the face of this Earth is angry. There are plenty of sweet, sugary, syrupy sisters that I know that brothers don’t want.”
While he doesn’t let men off the hook entirely, the movie does come down harder on black women. The movie is very cleverly-edited, and that really keeps the audience on the edge of its seat. It jumps back and forth between this kind of frank dialogue and the tug-of-war between James and Tanya. It really makes for riveting viewing.
With both the factual and fictional parts of the picture equally absorbing, expect to emerge from theater emotionally drained yet inspired to discuss the dysfunction permeating African-American relationships among your friends and family.
When asked about his movie, Tim Alexander said “Diary of a Tired Black Man is not a movie, It’s a message.”
Well, I see both at the same time, and if his aim with this message movie is to kickstart an overdue dialogue for change, I’d say congratulations Tim, you more than met that challenge.
Diary of a Tired Black Man
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 108 minutes
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Watch the Diary of a Tired Black Man trailer:
Excellent Indie-Flick from Tim Alexander Finally Finds Distribution with Magnolia Pictures
Tim Alexander is this critic’s pick for best black indie director of 2007. He essentially self-financed Diary of a Tired Black Man, which meant he wasn’t able to get the huge audience it deserved when he barnstormed it around the country a year ago.
Thanks to a lot of positive feedback from those who did view it, the film has recently been picked up by Magnolia Pictures which now plans to release it in theaters nationally in February 2009 in conjunction with Black History Month.
But if you’re too impatient to wait till then and you live in the New York City area, Diary of a Tired Black Man will be screened at the Urban World Film Festival on Saturday, Sept. 13th, at 3:15pm.