Why Tyler Perry is bad for black people

A few months ago I was very much surprised to the local critical acclaim that Tyler Perry’s film For Colored girls got. The film is an adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s original play and a shallow one at that. For many years now there has been sparring back and forth between Perry and the legendary Spike Lee, about the role that each is playing in articulating the black experience through the medium of cinema. Now I am a man who likes to regard myself as a simple folk, but categorically in this debate I have to take Spike Lee’s side. Tyler Perry is simply bad for black people. There is something deeply unsettling about the way that Perry scripts many of his characters. They have almost become skewed caricatures of the Black experience in general and the African Americans in particular.

Part of the reason why I feel that Perry as a director has failed to add any significant value to the black cultural experience is that he is an entertainer. And there is nothing wrong with that, but in an industry where reputable black directors are few and far between he is one of the most visible faces in the industry.  Surely he could put this to much better use instead of transcribing narratives that are nauseatingly shallow and lacking in any kind of originality. I am yet to find any film critic that can point out anything new that Perry has done. The whole Madea series for example is a mediocre rendition of subject matter that we have seen in the past. The whole cross dressing, human inflatable costume thing might have been funny when Eddie Murphy did it as the Nuttly professor but after that it is safe to say that we have had enough.

The reason why I think Spike Lee is the most important black filmmaker is because he has a body of work that could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with all his peers in Hollywood. His dedication to he directors craft and meticulous attention to detail and his tenderness towards his actors is something any creative would envy. But perhaps most importantly people like Perry would not even be taken seriously in the film industry had it not been for the irreverent narratives that Lee has presented on the screen. The racist rants of Do the right thing, or that ending sequence in Malcom X. surely cinema as a whole worse off without them.

So increasingly I am disgusted at Perry’s dismissal of Lee’s criticisms of his work. Its only amongst black creatives that criticism can be mistaken for jealousy. But the real question is what does Lee have to be jealous of? Although Terry might have a lot of money he is yet to garner the kind of respect that Lee has in the industry. Lee is credited with two Oscar nominations as well as having given many Black actors and musicians that platform to hone their craft. Most notably Denzel Washington. As for Perry? Nothing. I for one think he should sit down, evaluate his position and act his age.

One Response to “Why Tyler Perry is bad for black people”
  1. Posky says:

    I think the biggest difference is that Spike Lee is a prolific director who just happens to be black. As an artist his focus has been predominantly the social and racial struggle of people in general. Do The Right Thing deserves every ounce of praise it has received because it spoke to everyone with a clear and powerful message.

    Due, mainly to good promotion (thanks Oprah) and marketing, Perry’s films are popular and his predominantly black casts have made him a figure of note in the black community. Which would be fine if he were making better films, helping new directors get their voices heard or going outside of his “tried and true” formula. He’s not good at making an audience think and he’s not an artist. He is, as you said, a showman, entertainer and promoter– a pretty good one.

    With some exceptions, I don’t really want to see movies set in a modern day world with an all white or all black cast anyway. Sure, that may be the reality that a lot of Americans live, but not for all of us. Any film that has a targeted audience from the start is designed to create wealth, not feelings. I think that’s the real problem.

    The real solution would to have more (and better) directors that different audiences could relate to.

    Anyway, I apologize for being a few months late in reading it but this was a fine post. Thank you for putting it together for people to consider.

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