There are horror films, comedies, and rom-coms and then there’s Tyler Perry films. A genre of its own — flat light, generic sitcom sets, and unexplainable camera movements. I became acquainted with the work of Tyler Perry at a very young age. In some black house holds his film plays were probably sat right next to the Holy Bible — they were that high up in rankings. The film and television producer catered to the black community — especially black lower to middle class women, that had a touch of Christianity. The TV screens played as a mirror to black women as they fit the shoes of his characters. There was the story of being married to a man for eighteen years and finding out on her anniversary that he wants a divorce, to be with another woman. Now she’s labeled as this “Mad Black Woman.” Then a man came into her life, saved the day, and all her problems went away. Or a woman who had faced many adversities and struggles and kept everyone at a distance to show that she “Could Do Bad all By Herself.” Then a man came into her life, saved the day and all her problems went away. In Tyler Perrys, Good Deeds, there is a black woman who is a night janitor, struggling with raising her young daughter alone while poverty-stricken and homeless. Then a man came into her life, saved the day and all her problems went away. His movies were an outlet of healing for not only himself but for his audience. But what happens when that audience has healed and is ready to move past that stage in their life.
Before there was the bad wig, the large dress, and the even larger boobs that made up Madea, there was a young Tyler Perry sitting at his mom’s Friday night card parties not realizing until later in his life that that had become the masterclass of his works. In New York Times, Perry said
“Later when my mother and I were home, and my father would fly off into his usual fits of abusive rage, I quickly used my newfound tactics on my mother. After he left the room, I would walk in and imitate her and those card-playing women, and eventually she’d laugh. That laugh was medicine for my young soul.Now I look back on a lot of my early writing and I feel that I was subconsciously talking to my mother. I was carrying her and those beautiful, powerful, strong black women in my spirit. And much to the dismay of my critics, I’m pretty sure that this is how and why I started putting very serious subject matter right alongside humor in my work. I knew that my audience was full of women like the ones that I loved so much growing up.”
Later realizing he wasn’t just retelling the story of his mother, but the story of many other black women and giving answers to the black community that wasn’t being talked about aloud, off- screen. Abuse seemed to be ingrained in the path of the black women. Tyler Perry made certain parts of the black community feel seen, until his light shines in so bright and many stopped seeing his vision eye to eye. From then to now Perry has more than twenty-one films under his belt that all share the same theme. In his movies, black women were being beaten on, being cheated on, and left to be strong while everyone watched. Tyler Perry’s family reunion was adapted from his stage play “ Madea’s Family Reunion’’. The film depicted a love story of a woman who could not overlook her dark childhood and had given up on finding a man. A woman who seemed trapped in an abusive relationship. Rounding off with the family reunion that showed dynamics of the modern day generation and the older generation.
The movies continued to reinforce women supposing to be strong and cheating being a part of relationship norms — instead of revolutionizing with his audience. Black women started wanting more for themselves. They were becoming more successful. Women stopped enduring the physical and mental abuse of men. In 2018 the phrase Me Too created by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of women who had been abused, got global recognition after a viral tweet by actress Alyssa Milano. Milano was one of the women who accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Since then women have been very vocal about sexual assault allegations. As the Me Too movement gained prominence, more than 250 powerful people — celebrities, politicians, CEOs, and others — were the subject of sexual harassment, assault, or other misconduct allegations. Fast- forward to now those stories are still being told. Social media has become a vessel for women of all races and ethnicities to speak up and talk about abuse or these traumas that had taken place in their life. The black women community was outgrowing the narrative that Tyler Perry’s movies were built on. Tyler Perry did not grow nor evolve with his fan base that was watching his movies like a page from their own story. Perry knew his audience so well, and that’s why his audience loved him. Now, that audience is filled with women sticking up for themselves, sharing their trauma, and having a different mindset- that makes up the backbone of this era, unlike the early 2000’s.
Perry told the stories that the black community wasn’t going to see in the theaters and cinemas but he brought it to them in those settings, but now black women are looking to stories that fit their lifestyle now or a demand for better taste and higher quality.
Perry’s list of accomplishments seems like it would make him most admirable or should be enough to respect his craft, but this is not the case. In 2009, Perry gave the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People a $1 million dollar gift to celebrate the historic nonprofit’s centennial. Christmas 2018, Perry admitted that it was him who paid the total outstanding amounts for every item that was currently on layaway at the East Point and Douglasville Walmart stores. Just this year, not so charitable but still admirable, Perry offered up a house in Southern California where Meghan, Harry and their son, Archie, lived for three months.Perry has been shunned upon as much as he has been celebrated. On one hand we have him telling stories that his black audience loves. Daddy’s Little girls”, one of the few films that was not depicted from his plays, and was written, directed and produced by Perry himself. A story of a single father struggling to keep his three daughters away from his ex-wife and her drug dealer boyfriend. This film did not have a cameo from his trademark character, Madea, to give her Godly input and comedic relief. The story was heavy, but it was aspiring to resemble a version of real life. On the other hand we have Perry running into the constant battle of long-lasting stereotypes that are continuing to be being portrayed in his films, while also many eyes are picking up the quality of a poor production. His Recently released movie A Fall From Grace, had wig issues with editing errors to production design issues. The most obvious that the audience picked up was a shot of Grace’s “ringing” phone, but it actually was a screenshot in an iPhone’s photo roll.
It’s okay to love and hate Tyler Perry. There are many reasons to love the films and many reasons that they can be picked apart. Perry may have taken heed to the criticism because, after 20 years he did announce the retiring of his Madea character . He has put away his gray wig, glasses and long floral dresses, but the Tyler Perry genre lives on.