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Michael Ealy on Black Male-Bashing in 'Colored Girls'

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Despite "For Colored Girls" coming in at number six at the box office this weekend, the movie continues to spark debate; the loudest conversations being about the portrayal of Black men in the film. Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy recently suggested the film be renamed "For Black men who have considered homicide after watching another Tyler Perry movie" because of what he felt was a negative portrayal of Black men. After seeing an ESSENCE.com poll about "For Colored Girls" in which 21% of our readers thought the film should be a wake-up call for "Black men to treat us better," actor Michael Ealy reached out to ESSENCE.com to chime-in on the debate. During a break in shooting "The Good Wife," Ealy was passionate about the topic and wanted to ensure that his thoughts on the film were purely his own and were in no way an edict for anyone else to follow. Find out what he had to say about the portrayal of Black men in "For Colored Girls," and where Black male-bashing really happens on a nightly basis. ESSENCE.com: You've expressed that you want to set the record straight about how Black men are portrayed in "For Colored Girls." What does setting the record straight mean? MICHAEL EALY: I think that if you say this movie is male bashing, you're not looking at the bigger picture. Yeah there are some men with problems in the piece and if you did notice, yes, Hill Harper is one good man. But this is a play by women, by a woman. And it's not like Tyler [Perry] or anyone else wrote the script that had all these men with problems. In my opinion the bigger picture is that the issues that were applicable in the mid '70s when the play was on Broadway, are still plaguing our women and our children right now. The bigger issue is that the piece is timeless. And if you're a man who is handling your business then you know this doesn't apply to you. This isn't a film that showcases men; this is a film that showcases the triumph of our women. ESSENCE.com: Can you understand where people are coming from? EALY: Not really, I mean because ultimately as an actor I know there are people out there wondering why I did this. I would never sign on to a project that was male-bashing, because first and foremost I'm a man... what guy would sign on for that? So I can't understand, unless you're someone who is focusing on all the wrong things which is, yes, there are men out there with these issues that treat women this way, but there are others who don't and I think that's clear in the movie. If there was not one good guy in the movie then I could see it. And I'll take a leap of faith and defend Tyler Perry because I've heard people say that his films are male-bashing. To that I say for every bad guy in his movies there's a Shemar Moore, a Lamman Rucker, a Boris Kodjoe, there's always another guy who is a good guy. ESSENCE.com: How do you feel about how Black men are portrayed in Hollywood films overall? EALY: To me, the nightly news portrays Black men worse than films, and that's based on statistics, numbers and facts. They're arresting a greater number of Black men than they are any other men, so the nightly news to me is more damaging. In films we still get to play doctors, we still get to play heroes, police officers; we get to do a lot more in films but we can't change the nightly news. And if we're not gonna step up to the nightly news -- it's kind of a tough argument to say that this film is male-bashing. As far as other films, I just did "Takers" and everybody loved it, nobody complained about male-bashing in it. [Laughs] All of the men in "Takers" were criminals; we were all perpetuating a stereotype -- you either died or you went to jail. Because crime is sexy on television and film, people ate it up and no one complained about male bashing because, you know what, we looked cool. ESSENCE.com: And you play an army vet who has just returned from the Iraq war and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Where did you find that character within yourself? EALY: It's interesting because I don't have any personal abuse to really draw from and I didn't serve in the military, so everything I did was based on research on PTSD and how it affects other people. It's kind of like second-hand smoke, it's an epidemic. The bigger picture in terms of [the character] Beau Willie is that this is what war does to our families. This is not the Ike and Tina story, this is a war that is ripping our families apart. ESSENCE.com: Your castmate Kimberly Elise spoke to us about how difficult it was for her to get her character, Crystal, out of her system. Was it the same for you? EALY: Yes, you know when you get that wrapped up in a character you can run into some physical and mental issues. The hardest thing for me as a man was getting that window scene out of my body, and more importantly out of the minds of the children who were in it. The little girl (actress Jaycee Williams) grasped that it was pretend, the younger boy (actor Thomas "Duece" Jessup) didn't grasp it. I think Tyler did a wonderful job in terms of caring for them and I tried to do my part so that "Deuce" wouldn't be scarred. I still maintain contact with his parents. I took him to the park to get some ice cream because that was the only way for me to get through it. Catch Michael Ealy in "For Colored Girls" and "The Good Wife" on CBS. What do you think of how Black men are portrayed in "For Colored Girls"?
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