Are Tyler Perry's film harmful to the image of Black Americans?

Originally published at: Are Tyler Perry's film harmful to the image of Black Americans? | Boing Boing

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Just FYI, Killer Mike recently did a two part interview with Tyler Perry on his show Love and Respect (Mike’s show, I mean)… I have not gotten around to watching it yet:

An interesting question to wrestle with! Thanks!


A reminder that Tyler wasn’t exclusively marketing his films to an black audience.


Critiquing Tyler Perry movies is like a sommelier tasting toilet water.


IIRC Cheech and Chong’s professional breakup centered around similar concerns, with Cheech Marin growing increasingly uncomfortable that his on-screen persona embodied so many negative stereotypes associated with Chicano culture at a time when Latinx people were still grossly under-represented in Hollywood.


Back in the late 1990s, I went to a gospel play at the Beacon Theatre (maybe one of Perry’s). I went mainly for the music but I ended up being more struck by how much the basic plot resembled that of the Italian and Jewish immigrant theatre of the Lower East Side almost a century earlier. There again were the younger members of the family, ripe to be corrupted by money and modern life in the big city; there again were those depraved villains who would tempt them with addictions (drugs now, gambling then, extramarital sex always); and there again was the wise grandparent, saving the kids by bringing them to religion and old-world or countryside values.

Perry basically takes the same approach. He’s part of an old American tradition of crowd-pleasing cultural impresarios who identifies an under-served and under-represented but substantial niche audience and then gives them exactly what their lowest common denominator wants.

The formula is simple: take a shopworn generic narrative involving clear-cut goodies, baddies, and naifs/innocents caught in the middle; throw in some broad comedy; give the audience license to cheer and boo and laugh loudly throughout; always provide a happy ending; hire at least one semi-recognisable actor whose peak of fame has passed; and incorporate familiar tropes and language and music from the community being targetted.

Without the last element, you basically have the bland whitebread Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas movies that are all over TV now – the McDonald’s of entertainment genres, different variations on the same basic and familiar nothingburger. Someone who knows what he’s doing (and can convince the money men that there’s profit to be made) can thus get away with sub-par quality in production values, writing and acting talent, etc.

If Perry has a “special sauce” beyond his appeal to the Black community that makes him successful, it’s his willingness to be explicit about family and community dysfunction. He shows (albeit in his usual over-the-top way – his baddies are irredeemable and depraved) the ravages of child abuse, gang violence, drug addiction, etc. in a way others who use the formula didn’t and don’t. Perry strikes me as someone who’s wrestling with a lot of personal demons in his work.

All of which is to say, these films aren’t necessarily harmful to the image of Black Americans (unless the cross-over appeal to white audiences is of the nasty racist variety). Their popularity does say something about the tastes of Americans in general.

[disclaimer: white guy here. Now that I’ve written my comment I’m going to sit back and listen to those Black members of our community who know a lot more about the specifics of Perry’s work than I do.]


I think LaVidaRosa makes excellent points. Her comments about supporting what you do or don’t like are the best. Full disclosure, I’ve probably only watched one film Tyler Perry wrote. I didn’t enjoy it, so I wasn’t motivated to watch any more. His studios and projects that he didn’t write hold more appeal for me, so that’s where I spend my time.

Could people who can’t tell the difference between character and caricature (or fiction from reality) gain a negative impression of all Black people from watching Tyler Perry’s films? Sure. However, folks with that mindset could gain a negative impression from other films that have nothing to do with Tyler Perry. :woman_shrugging:t4:


I am a white guy with all that entails, and I have watched a few Tyler Perry movies, but ultimately the comedy style isn’t for me.

I will say that what we watch , read, listen to, and surround ourselves with informs our beliefs, probably more than we’d like to admit. So, it’s safe to say that if there are incorrect or harmful black stereotypes in his movies, I at least to some level believe those and will probably accidentally perpetuate those harmful stereotypes.


Perry doesn’t just take the same approach.

He comes from the same place. Like you said that church play may very well been one of his. He started in that market. A lot of his films are adaptations of his plays. And almost all of his films are still basically just that kind of church play.

From what I understand those subjects you say are his “special sauce”, are common subjects in Black church plays of the sort Perry comes out of. Though Perry does seem to include all of them in each work. And that might be a bit more his trick, excess. His films are ridiculous and over the top.

I think describing him as an impresario who identified a niche and pandered to the least common denominator sorta makes him sound predatory. Though I’m sure that’s not what you were going for. But the thing he is doing is the thing he is from. And what he’s done is almost the opposite.

He took a thing that exists and is popular in a niche, underserved market. And he marketed the hell out of it to everyone else.

The other thing that always strikes me about Perry. Is that he is for sure is making schlock (and making the hell out of it). And a lot of people will dismiss him for it, or tear him apart for it. But those people will often celebrate people like Roger Corman. Who do the same thing, but less successfully.

Like Perry owns the largest sounds stage and studio facility in Georgia. It is the single largest Black owned business in the American production industry. That’s a thing. A serious accomplishment.

Two podcasts on the subject:

Fanti is a couple of Black, Queer media journalists discussing things they have complicated relationships with.

Newcomers is Nicole Byer and Lauren Lapkus taking on series with big followings, that they have never seen before. They have an “expert” or at least knowledgeable party join them for each subject.

Season two was Tyler Perry movies.

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Though I’ve seen more than a few of his films, I also don’t particularly care for Tyler Perry’s work in general; and I think that the past criticisms of colorism are quite valid.

There’s one scene in one ‘Madea’ movie that I like, where an abused woman finally fights back against her abuser, with a vengeance… but that’s about it.


I’m with others here. Tyler Perry is using his own culture’s tropes and stereotypes. Sure, he’s sometimes over the top, but what’s wrong with that? He’s not more way out there than some of the old Yiddish cinema though he’s crazy in his own direction.

Did those Yiddish movies make people think less of Jews? Come on, the people who were going to think less of Jews were going to think less of Jews. Do Tyler Perry movies make people think less of Black Americans? Give me a break. The real racists don’t even know Tyler Perry exists.

P.S. Thanks for not bringing up the cross dressing. This could have been an article on whether Tyler Perry movies are harmful to the image of older women.


this was on my tv literally within an hour ago:


Oh, crap. It never really crossed my mind while responding to this that Madea carries a gun. :grimacing: Now I’m wondering what consequences she’s faced in those movies, or the details of her encounters with law enforcement. Yeah, I can imagine a cop using that as an excuse with an elderly Black woman going through her purse. :woman_facepalming:t4:

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