I may never get to the end of Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots, produced by OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s Network; I have paused at many “middles” of this epic drama in disbelief that I am only now viewing it. It was launched in 2013. It is an extraordinary offering. For the first five or six nights, as I watched, I thought a lot about my mother, for whom soap operas, after a hard day in field or kitchen or dairy, meant a mental escape into a world of ease and lightheartedness, of relatively uncomplicated affairs engaged in by folks with straight teeth, nice houses, good clothes, and sporty cars. The Haves and the Have Nots acknowledges this past too, embodied in the character of Hannah, maid to a wealthy white family in Georgia, post Obama, but she is surrounded by a cast the likes of which this Southerner has never seen.
It is, in a certain way of viewing it, a magical cast. I thought of how, if I could bring back some of our people who passed on half a century ago, they would be dumbstruck at Perry’s casting of a fully integrated cast that pays little attention to color but a great deal to content of character. And how fabulously this works. It is like looking at an American universe undreamed of in mainstream cinema, where color is always manipulated to show black people our place: the bottom of society; overwhelmed, always, and outnumbered, by white people. We have been harmed by this.
This is an aside: but I remember being a student at Sarah Lawrence when Casablanca was shown on campus. I had never heard of it, or of Bogart, but I was game, especially since all my new acquaintances seemed thrilled. And there it was. The most basic of stories about white people reeling from their innumerable disasters and wars, redeemed by an ambiguous connection between the Bogart character and the black piano player. Of course no one in that setting would have had a clue why this might be my perspective. Or why it was so hard for some of them to become friends with me.
It is so refreshing to see a truly evil black woman acted brilliantly! In the person of the always scheming and malignant Veronica, who has not just two faces, but ten or twelve. So fascinating to see her husband, David, so bland and accommodating as best friend to the white mayor of Savannah as both he and the mayor plan to run for higher office: Governor and Lt. Governor, of Georgia. So absorbing to watch how equally two-faced and criminal they are. And the mayor’s wife, a wealthy, chubby woman who bought her husband and wants him to pay her back by letting her constantly torment him, as well as his live-in concubine who has borne him two children. It is a wonderful plot! Endless and of course wrapped around Candace, the hooker turned law student whose skills at manipulating everyone but her mother leave us breathless. A fascinating character, matched only by her best friend, the very gay and in the closet (until he leaps out) Jeffrey who is of course in love all along with the white son of the mayor who is running for governor which means overt gayness (since he is son to Veronica and David, the vice mayor) will never do!
A friend and I binged on this saga until we were bleary eyed during the day; going to bed one night just at dawn. But what a devastating healing it has afforded us. I kept thinking: Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment has nothing on this script. He is the writer I was most reminded of, as we watched the series go deeper into an exploration of the crippling consequences of being outlaws, sociopaths, and psychopaths. So far, souls are being laid bare, by actors who seem never to miss a beat depicting horrifying realities which we must acknowledge as part of healing and recreating a better world.