Tyler Perry is Free

I have a vivid memory of a city bus ride I took with my father when I was eight years old. We were on our way to the science museum and there were some young Black kids in the back of the bus acting up–nothing outlandish–just a few unsupervised pubescents being loud. I could tell before he said anything that my daddy was not pleased with the way the kids were behaving, but he was never that “takes a village to raise a child” kind of Black man, so instead of providing any kind of parental conversation or guidance for the noisemakers, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, let out an irritated breath and muttered a barely audible, “Making us look bad.”

I didn’t ask him what he meant. I clearly understood that my father was ashamed of the backseat Black kids, but more than that, I got the impression that he was not one of them. I gleaned from my daddy’s demeanor–the way he sat up straighter and held his head higher–that somehow he believed he was other then them, better than them, and that he certainly didn’t deserve the negative opinions strangers on the bus might attribute to him (because he had the same skin color as those unruly hooligans).

At that young age I didn’t yet realize that the strangers on the bus whose opinions he feared were the White ones. I began to recognize that as I grew older. I learned that he cared very much what White people thought of him and he took their judgement of him quite seriously. Over the years I saw him project that same negative judgement he himself feared so much onto countless Black youngsters who could have benefited from loving correction instead of his silent damnation.

That experience with my daddy is why I love and admire Tyler Perry so much, and why I appreciate Perry’s willingness to shine his own loving light on the “bad behavior” of people who share his skin color. Perry is not silenced, nor is his spine stiffened by what others think of him or his art — and yes, I do think it is the essence of art whenever we humans are shown our strengths and our flaws in a way that elicits strong emotion. Perry takes his art to another level by getting us to laugh about our pain as he educates and admonishes us NOT to pass our destructive flaws on to successive generations.

No one will ever complain that a violent, potty-mouthed buffoon in an Adam Sandler movie makes all white-skinned people look bad. I am an Adam Sandler fan, but the critics have HATED his movies for their “buffoonery.” I don’t go to see a Sandler movie expecting subtle themes, classic motifs and social responsibility. I go to laugh, and he makes me do that, so I pay for it. One of the privileges White film makers have (and likely never even think about) is that no matter what the subject matter of the film they want to make, their finished product will not be accused of reflecting (positively or poorly) on all White people.White filmmakers have the freedom to tell any story, any time, in any way they please.

Tyler Perry is choosing to claim that freedom for himself, and I applaud him for it:

“There are so many people who walk around saying ‘It’s stereotypical,’ and this is where the whole Spike Lee thing comes from, the negativity, that this is Stepin’ Fetchit, this is coonery, this is buffoonery, and they try to get people to get on this bandwagon with them, to get this mob mentality to come against what I’m doing…It’s always black people, and this is something that I cannot undo…I am sick of it. It comes from us. We don’t have to worry about anyone else trying to destroy us or take shots, because we do it to ourselves.”

Tyler Perry is making films for an audience that is buying tickets. Period. If he were to make a different kind of movie, he would likely be bringing in different numbers (as evidenced by Colored Girls, which grossed in total less than a Madea film makes in one weekend).

And, while it is true that Tyler is making googobs of money with his films, he does it while delivering messages of transformation, spirituality and personal growth. His films lecture deadbeat dads about their responsibility to support  their kids, warn youngsters about the repercussions of unprotected sex, and uplift women who have been abused.

Name a social ill impacting the Black community and you can bet one of Perry’s films has touched on it. It’s not like he’s making movies that glorify sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and crime, so why is there so much vitriol against him?

If you are old enough to remember, you know that the Cosby show got much criticism back in the 80s for what many Black people at the time called an unrealistic portrayal of the Black family that few could relate to. Cosby’s upper middle class family headed by an obstetrician and an attorney who were happily married and raising their children together was  hugely controversial, as evidenced by an exhibit from the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

“Some observers described the show as a 1980’s version of Father Knows Best, the Huxtables as a white family in blackface…One audience study suggests that the show “strikes a deal” with white viewers, that it absolves them of responsibility for racial inequality in the United States in exchange for inviting the Huxtables into their living room.” (-Darnell M. Hunt)

The attack on Tyler Perry and his right to portray what he chooses in his films is not a new phenomenon, it is just coming from a different side of the argument. Perry haters are complaining that his films reinforce negative stereotypes, but Cosby haters said just the opposite. Back then, Bill Cosby’s response to the controversy was swift and succinct, and it applies just as appropriately to Perry’s work today as it did to Cosby’s nearly thirty years ago:

“You . . . pretend that our existence is one whole shell of sameness. I tell the people who complain they don’t know people like the Huxtables, ‘You ought to get out more often.’ “

I don’t know about you, but I can name a real-life person for every one of Tyler Perry’s fictional characters–including Madea. These are people in my life whom I know and love, and though I might not always agree with or feel proud of their choices, I will always root for them to succeed at facing and eradicating their flaws — and, if some Black people are worried that the “strangers on the bus” will judge all Black people by the actions of  a few characters in an obviously comedic film, whose problem is that…really?

“I am ashamed for the black poet who says: ‘I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,’ as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world…An artist must be free to choose what he does, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand…We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame…We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

-Langston Hughes


16 Responses to “Tyler Perry is Free”

  • Henri Says:

    Wow. Interesting! I have to admit that I have been no big fan of Tyler Perry movies, but I have admired his determination to be creative and make his movies, and applaud his success. So far, though, the bits of his movies that I have seen , I found dull and boring. I would like to give his films another chance, so where should I begin? Which of his films do you like the best?

    • kathleencross Says:

      I don’t think it’s wrong to dislike Tyler Perry’s films. He is definitely catering to an audience that loves and supports the kind of movies he makes. I am an Adam Sandler fan, but the critics HATE his movies for their “buffoonery.” I don’t go to see a Sandler movie expecting subtle themes, classic motifs and social responsibility. I go to laugh, and he makes me do that, so I pay for it. Having said that, I have laughed at every one of Tyler Perry’s movies and enjoyed myself thoroughly because I let go of judgement before I walk in the door. So far my favorite is “Why Did I Get Married.” It was hilarious. (I haven’t seen the sequel, but folks say it was funny too.) I am looking forward to seeing the latest one, “Madea’s Big Happy Family Reunion.” Of it, Time magazine’s critic said: “Movie reviewers tend to ignore or dismiss Perry, and he returns the compliment, refusing to screen most of his films in advance for critics. But his work exerts an odd fascination on me: for it brazenly mixes calculation and naïveté, Christian values and chitlin-circuit earthiness, rowdy jokes and the most convulsive melodrama. I’m also pleased that somebody is making very personal, very popular movies dealing with the contemporary middle- and working-class blacks, and the prickly suspicions between the two groups…I went last night to Big Happy Family, which played before a predominantly black audience: an African-American couple on a midnight date, and me. (Manhattan’s Battery Park area, near Wall Street, is not exactly Madeaville.) The movie proved to be an exasperating, fitfully enjoyable jumble of Perryana, full of insult humor, a gospel choir and, not to give too much away, plot elements borrowed from Chinatown, Precious, Imitation of Life and Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke — all restitched and Tyler-made.” -RICHARD CORLISS Read more: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,2067237,00.html#ixzz1L8EYIRih

    • rachel Says:

      Definitely family Reunion!

  • Ali'a Brooke Says:

    Love the topic, yet I don’t feel like the “coonery and buffoonery” will ever be addressed by him. To my mind the question still stands: why put vitamins in a big mac? why not serve us hilariousness in a healthier self image? I have never understood his method – and that means it’s not for me. But he has to be responsible for continuing to put out these images, right? I don’t see the defense against Spike’s statements. For me it ain’t about white folks, as much as it is straight up buffoonery. Perry is smarter than this, so why use this tired big-loose titty loud ass black woman image. He doesn’t have to live with the impact, but I am expected to defend or support it? BS!

    • kathleencross Says:

      Madea’s “big-loose titty loud ass black woman” “buffoonery” is derived from actual experiences Tyler Perry has had with women he loves. He has said this over and over again. Some would have these images hidden from view, but Tyler is not ashamed of them–he embraces them as a part (not the whole, but a part) of who he is and how he arrived at loving himself. These women saved his life. Without them he would have drowned in a sea of abuse and neglect. I have a family member who would snatch her earrings out and whoop somebody’s a#% if she found out one of ours was in danger. (She doesn’t carry a gun, but she smokes weed and talks crazy) and I LOVE HER. She’s not a buffoon, she’s a real breathing loving human being and she adds value to my family in all her unconventional glory.

      • Ali'a Brooke Says:

        I hear that. I feel that. And, I just plain old don’t like it. I don’t see the value in it. I trust that if I put up/out images of black men for the world to see that I would intentionally and purposefully NOT attach those images to a character that was ANYTHING like a Sambo. We all know that Madea didn’t start with Tyler Perry, but he made her bigger, louder and more foolish. She’s not the multi-million dollar image of black womanhood that I’ll ever pay to have reflected back at me. My contention isn’t that people like Madea don’t exist, but why is she the centerpoint of his money-making machine? Why Madea? Madea doesn’t have any intelligent , bra-wearing, wig on straight, loving sisters? Madea doesn’t have any industrious, brilliant, quirky little brothers?

        • kathleencross Says:

          Madea is speaking to and for those young people acting up in the back of the bus (and the people who know and love them). If Madea doesn’t speak to or for you, that is truly okay, but folks act as if it is Tyler’s responsibility to serve their own individual visions of what he was put on earth to do. There are plenty of other filmmakers who can and should do that for you. Instead of criticizing Perry, Spike Lee and other finger pointers simply need to create the product they are accusing Tyler of not creating, and see who comes to the theater. Tyler is FREE to create what he feels he has been put on earth to create. You can vote against him with your wallet, but for people to constantly tear him down for doing what he believes comes from a place of love and service is mean-spirited and divisive. That energy could be better used creating the images of Black people you would prefer to see on screen… Just know that when you do, someone will rise up to tell you you are not doing it right.

          • kathleencross Says:

            I’m not a fan of urban erotic / gangster novels, but I won’t knock those who have chosen to write them. I try to use my talent to “edutain” readers, but I don’t pretend to serve everyone’s needs or tastes. That is what art is. it’s about being FREE to express yourself your way. But, if you get too successful at it, the critics will come and tell you to do it a different way.

  • Ali'a Brooke Says:

    You KNOW i feel you on the criticism, the ugliness, mean-spiritedness…all of it. I’m just saying – it doesn’t mean to my mind at least, that he can sidestep the history and his continued use of a f-d up, overused image of my mamas and aunties. You are absolutely correct! He is a FREE man, an artist. I am saying that the response is always to do it yourself…and face your own criticism. I think it’s an out – a way to not deal with the issue of perpetuating negative stereotypes. I think it’s an honest criticism that he wiggles out of too easily. I would like for him to acknowledge who Madea is – a mammy. i just want Tyler to say: I make huge amounts of money repackaging and reselling Mammy stories to white people who then sell them to you, black folks, worldwide.

    • kathleencross Says:

      First of all, Madea is not a good example of a mammy-the mammy caricature worships white people and everything they have and represent. (Madea would slap you silly for suggesting that) LOL Secondly, Tyler Perry OWNS everything he creates. He has sold NOTHING to white people for repackaging. Perry is so rich because he pays only for distribution, which makes him a rarity among filmmakers, black or white.

      • Ali'a Brooke Says:

        THANK YOU for fixing that up :) I’m really referring to the look, not Madea’s attitude, which i know is not white-loving, at least not directly. it’s a composite of ugliness, and i def did not list every aspect of it that i can relate to other piss poor images of black folks. and, i understand that he owns it all, appreciate that VERY much. i love his business acumen. i just dislike what he makes money from. i was giving him an out. i ASSUMED that in the distribution, there were possibly some changes to the product, some corporate hand that made it worse than when he handed it over. i hoped against hope that his weren’t the only hands on this, trying to give him an excuse. look at me blaming the man. my bad.

        • kathleencross Says:

          That composite of ugliness argument is the same one that got The Color Purple boycotted by the NAACP back in the day, and almost sidelined Roots. “Please don’t show us black folks in a bad light because people will believe that’s who we are” It is an argument that comes from a place of victimization, shame and insecurity. When will we be secure enough in our intrinsic value and beauty that a so-called unbeautiful portrayal is not an attack? (and who says a big-tittied, heavyset, loud-mouthed mama is unbeautiful? Millions have been lovingly raised by one and might object to that judgment) When will it be considered absurd to suggest that one so-called unflattering portrayal paints all Black people with the same brush? When will Black writers and filmmakers have the freedom (white ones already do) to tell the stories they choose in the manner they choose without being accused of being sellouts or Toms? When will we know we’ve arrived at that magical moment?

  • Sue Beaumont Says:

    came upon this by chance – am a non techie – so it was a surprise to me – that doesn’t matter – doesn’t mean I don’t have core beliefs – there is so much more to a man than the colour of skin – it is the measure of the man – his heart- his soul – if we continue to judge by the outside we will truly miss what is on the inside & miss a great opportunity to know humble men – talented men – caring men – this list could on – am using men in the generic sense – yesterday watched a 1974 concert filmed in Zaire – worth watching again – the mixing of African artists with American artists like James Brown, BBKing, with commentary from “Ali” & the artists – lot to be learned from this concert – I think I saw “rant” click on link – I am of Irish descent – should suit me to a tee – Also am Canadian – ranting is new to Canadians – they don’t respond well or participate – I may be the exception to the rule

    • kathleencross Says:

      Welcome Sue,
      Glad you stumbled here and thank you for your comment. “If we continue to judge by the outside we will truly miss what is on the inside…” Couldn’t agree with you more!

  • jelanieS Says:

    YES! Take that haters. Tyler Perry is on his way to billionaire status and the hating hasn’t even got rolling good yet. The same crabs who hate him hate Oprah too. Spike Lee is so worried about coonery and bufoonery when he should be aware of making himself look like a jealous hater. Do YOU Spike and keep your haterade to yourself.

  • Warren Says:

    Tyler perry is doing his thing he went from (nothing) to something so you gotta love it and what he is doing i respect him a lot and its comeing from and actor him self meaning me i wish i could audition for one of his films or somebody that is makeing a big impact like him i hope Tyler perry sees this comment or somebody else thats pstive like him.

    Heres me resume Tyler or anybody that does film im just a young guy thats tring to achive his dreams

    Warren Chappell

    267-296-0007

    (Guardian Simone Chappell)

    (267-974-8687)

    Height: 5’10
    Eyes: Brown
    Hair: Black
    Age Range: 14-29
    Waist: 34
    Suit: ??

    Film:

    Can’t Judge A Book
    Character student/kidnapper
    Dir. Zack Williams

    Webseries:

    Finder’s Keepers
    Character Shawn
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    Training:

    Edward Bok Tech
    Theater 01
    Instructer Mrs. Roth

    Special Skills: Host, Rap, Basketball, Baseball, Football Dancing, (billiards)
    Well let me start off by saying my name is Warren Chappell I’m a guy
    with big dreams of being an actor/host of big events. My family and
    friends of my family have been telling me since i was about 9 years
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    had gave me a number to call for acting I set up an appointment with
    an agency and i read some papers for them and after that they said i
    was awesome. A week later i found out about FILM.ORG i went on there
    and applied for a movie called (DON’T JUDGE A BOOK) i got the part i
    did at the audition. I am currently seeking a good agency to work with
    me and show me the skills i need to make it in this industry. I’m 17
    teen I’m in high school I’m getting good grades in school and i just
    wanna do something positive with my self and my time and i reside in
    Philadelphia.I Ain’t gone wast y’all time if you want to meet with me
    to read some monologues or sum scrips just let me know i hosted many
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    My height 5.10 My Weight is 1.80 in jeans i wear a 34/32 in shirts i
    wear medium or large in shoes i wear 9/12

    here’s my cell phone number 267-296-0007
    here’s my mother cell phone 267-974-8687 her name is Simone
    Please get back with me have a nice day.

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