As a Black woman raised in a household where taking pride in being Black was only secondhand to breathing, I struggle with my disdain for Tyler Perry’s movies and shows. Now don’t get me wrong, in the beginning I was a Tyler Perry fan, in the beginning I watched Empire too however.
See when something Black is new, even if it is flawed, it is on us to give it a chance. I could watch the play versions of Madea’s Family Reunion or Diary of a Mad Black Woman both time and time again. I can’t say the same for any of Perry’s movies or television shows. In fact, I can’t think of any predominately Black television shows I turn off as soon as I hear the first lines other than Perry’s shows.
The caricature of Black people that Perry insists on presenting to the world disgusts me. Most things that are newly entertaining to the masses eventually become redundant, repetitive and then annoying. Perry’s productions took me through those cycles very swiftly.
I am in no way knocking the way the man got his foot in the door. I celebrate his story of rising from homelessness to where he is now. I am so glad that we have someone who makes Black movies featuring Black actors, but I can’t help but get over this feeling I have. The feeling that when Tyler Perry makes a movie the world laughs at us, not with us. I can understand how he got his foot in the door, what I can’t understand is why he continues to perpetuate the stereo-types that he, as a Black producer, has a chance at changing.
In the 80’s and early 90’s Spike Lee’s movies were not just good movies, they were important. Lee made movies that forced America to see Black people as people. He made movies featuring Black people that challenged stereotypes and forced you, the viewer, to understand Black people were much more than white America had led you to believe through its movies and television. The picture of uneducated savages, thieves, the notion that we weren’t capable of maintaining stable home lives for our families, Lee helped change that.
Tyler Perry shows make me feel like I’m watching new-aged Blaxpoitation propaganda. I am in no way comparing the quality of the work of these two directors, nor their movies to each others. What I am examining is the word around these two producers and their response to it. In 2016 when the list of unarmed Black men and women shot and killed by police has grown too long to even count on two hands Perry’s movies disappoint.
Tyler Perry is in no way hurting for money or in a position where he can’t at least TRY to put a show on that is not a disgrace to Black people. His first show, House of Payne, was decent. Though it was in so many ways very stereotypical, it didn’t go overboard. Besides, it was a foot in the door. Then came Meet the Browns and all hell broke loose. There are characters who make a good supporting member of a cast, like Mr. Brown did in Madea’s Family Reunion; these characters don’t necessarily need their own story lines.
Meet the Browns, a show in poor taste if you ask me, was not something I could stomach. Like Madea, I can only handle Mr. Brown in small doses.
The shows both show multiple generations of Black families living under one roof yet still struggling. The characters are overweight, loud mouthed, gossiping, there are racial jokes and social gaffes, show broken homes and families and molestation. His sitcoms are like “dramedy’s,” dramas disguised as comedies, and it’s hard to laugh at them.
I won’t even go on a diatribe about Madea. I will say this however, it’s been about 15 years since Perry started touring the country with the play version of Madea’s Family Reunion. In 2011 he was named by Forbes as the highest paid man in entertainment. I cringed when I heard BOO! A Madea’s Halloween was being released last week, It made me wonder why, for what reason a celebrated actor, writer, director, who not only stars in his own movies but has procured significant roles in others productions as well, continues to put on this dress, wig, and body suit to portray the ignorance that is Madea.
I can understand a foot in the door, I can understand going with the flow until you’re the boss but Tyler Perry is the boss. There are too many movies to be made for him to keep disgracing himself to portray Madea.
Any way I digress, back to his television offerings. He tried again with For Better or Worse, which was supposed to be a television spin off of his movie “Why Did I Get Married?” The show was so over the top many viewed it as a mini soap opera. When the show was taken off TBS it was picked up by OWN. OWN also broadcasts the subsequent soap opera Perry did develop (as if For Better or Worse wasn’t practice) The Haves and the Have Nots. The Haves and the Have Nots is as typical of any daytime soap opera; it just comes on at night.
Love Thy Neighbor is another Perry show that features a ragtag cast of characters who again, work two jobs to survive, come from broken homes and pregnancy out of wedlock and everything else bad said about Black families.
Is it too much to ask that a Black producer make ONE show that shows a successful, well maintained Black family? Is it too much to think that a show should feature adult Black children who have moved out and gotten their own homes. I’m 35, I moved into my first apartment at 19 and have never been back home. I have worked one job my whole life because I had the skill set to get a salaried position and work within my local government at a young age. At 25 I retired and started my own business. I haven’t seen one character like myself in Perry’s offering, yet many of us exist.
Yes, we may have started in broken homes, but many of us got out on our own and made something of ourselves. To have multiple shows perpetuating the stereotype that Black children are raised to be insufficient to maintain life as adults without running home is crazy. The only shows he has where people are able to maintain their lives individually are the shows where people are blatantly affluent, such as the Haves and the Have Nots.
I want to support Tyler Perry, I do. I find it so hard to put my money or support behind a man or brand that doesn’t represent me. When I pay my money to see a Tyler Perry movie it’s like donating to his next project. Each Tyler Perry project continues to be another that disappoints me as I steadily await something from him to finally break the mold he has created for himself. Something that represents the rest of Black America. Show after show I am left without something to identify with from a producer I thought would finally speak for all of us. I often wonder when Perry looks at his dedicated audiences, does he see them as he sees his characters; overweight, unhappy, struggling, failing, victims or does he just see dollar signs.