Can’t Black Women Do Better Than Tyler Perry?

After viewing the newly released Why Did I Get Married Too?, I’m asking myself why I chose to see another Tyler Perry film.

If you’ve seen one Tyler Perry movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all, so I’ll just summarize how they go.

Plot A: A slightly dense-but-desperate black woman is wronged by her professional, white-collar, well-to-do-husband. He leaves her (usually for another woman). She becomes enraged and rancorous. Then a working-class brother comes along and saves her from herself.

Plot B: An already bitter and attitudinal black woman has to be taught how to love by a simple and kind working-class black man.

Plot C: A professional and successful black woman has to learn to overcome her frigidity so her working-class love interest can save her from a life of loneliness.

Perry’s much-celebrated working-class savior rarely sins. He’s resurrected over and over as the man all women need. I have no problem with Perry’s emphasis on class. It mirrors real life–except when the class difference is used to disparage women’s choices. When uppity women marry for money or when they’re too proud of their status, they can expect to be betrayed in a Perry film, but when they marry a hard-working brother for love he will take care of them for the rest of their lives.

It’s a slippery slope. Tyler Perry’s films don’t shift away from the cultural ideal of men as providers. Their more insidious message is that when women get greedy or choose men who can provide much more than they need, they deserve what they get.

I’m generally not a fan of these plot lines, so why would I set myself to see more of the same?

The easy answer is that I wanted to review Why for Ms. The next best answer is that I like to see black people working. The most honest answer is catharsis.

I cringe when I see beautiful, talented black women actresses reduced to screaming banshees, yet I admire the way those characters express themselves. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t know how many opportunities for me to say how I really feel have passed me by. I don’t want to embarrass my man in public or be heard nagging from miles away, but it would be nice to know that it’s okay to say whatever it is I’m thinking—especially if it isn’t particularly nice.

I want to be one of those women who go for the gusto and isn’t afraid to express herself. But I’m caught up in all kinds of gendered socialization that says women should be seen and not heard, women are responsible for others’ emotional well-being and black women should never be angry (especially in public). So I go see Tyler Perry movies. I’m glad I’m not that woman on the big screen, and at the same time I wish I were more like her.

The problem with Perry is that the middle ground is missing. His women characters are either on punishment because they did something stupid or they turn into monsters because their men did something stupid or they think their men are about to do something stupid.

I watch because as a black woman I’m trying to find that flexible space for femininity that isn’t suffocated by the expectations of others. I don’t want to keep holding my tongue, but I also don’t want to be known for always giving the tongue-lashings. I watch Tyler Perry because he forces me to ask the really important question: What kind of woman do I want to be?

Comments

  1. thanks, i really enjoyed this review!

  2. Da real Mrs.Shin says:

    Great analysis. I will wait for someone to get the dvd and borrow it and save my coins for candy.

    This is the first time I have seen the movie poster and I am not feeling the not so subtle message it projects. While encasing folks in rings may have been visually cute, it reads like marriage is restrictive and uncomfortably confining. Perhaps a nod to your notion of Mr. Perry encasing his characters in their prescribed gender roles.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote on this new film! I’ve had the same thoughts about Tyler Perry films.

  4. I love your analysis even though I haven’t seen the film. All I will say at this point, as long as these films are supported, that subliminal message will continue to be communicated. Not that it’s necessarily the wrong message. As I think about it, not sure if it’s the right one either.

    Tyler’s positive portrayal of working class men being saviors probably serves as a fantasy for many men…black or white. You see it in movies all the time where the nerd, the blue collar, or average looking Joe overcomes obstacles to ultimately become the champion, the savior of the women they desire. It’s every underdog’s fantasy.

    Unfortunately, Hollywood likes stereotypes, and it gives Tyler’s audience to cheer for themselves…for they see themselves as the characters. And there are some truths to stereotypes. I realize it’s more complicated than that. I for one, never considered women in Tyler Perry movies to be dense or dimwitted. In my mind, they are more committed and overly trusting which is what most women are. Or should I say are hopeful. And they are constantly let down by their dream guy (usually, muscle bound or well to do) and it takes the common guy to mend all their woes.

  5. Thanks for the post! I admire your honesty and I know all too well about always wanting to be myself in public but being afraid I would embarrass others. I have a ridiculously loud laugh and I agree I feel the same way about social norms about how women should silence themselves or hold back. Luckily I found a friend who is way louder than me and is proud to be heard. I’m slowly allowing myself to reach the same comfort level and trying to figure out what sort of a woman I want to be like you said. Awesome post!

  6. Good article. I feel you conflict. I just love Black folk sooo much. I want to see them on the screen. However, the drama of TP’s movies just makes me ill.

  7. Ebony, I just want to say that you are so good at this. I have been really impressed by everything you’ve written. I hope you keep saying what you think and feel because in my opinion it’s really substantial. Your ideas are great and reading these posts has been really worthwhile for me. Thanks!!

  8. Chalmer Thompson says:

    I haven’t seen either of the Why movies yet even though my teenaged daughters loved the first one and can’t wait to see the next one. I usually watch just about everything they watch, but something’s been holding me back about this one. This review gives me some excellent “ammo” for discussion. The conflict that’s been discussed in your review, and in some of the letters, is as important and revealing about the dilemma of Black people in regards to popular media and Black filmmakers.

  9. slightly different note….

    am I the only one who noticed the names at the top of the poster?

    very Chiltin Circuit (<-traditional reference, not value judgement), again says something about a business man who knows his audience.

    interesting.

  10. You missed on other thing with TP. The colorism. If the character is light skinned and professional, then she’s a devil. Only brown skinned, working class people can be normal with TP.

  11. Anthony Revels says:

    I agree with your words here. I do feel Tyler Perry give a limited view into what it isto be a real woman let alone a real black woman. I feel, in some ways, he is just perpetuating the sterotypes givin to black women. That can be a result of the conditioning he is subjected too as a black man from older black men and older black women who, for the most part, substantiate what he writes and puts in films. More words to come timeto get some food :)

  12. Thanks! You are a breath of fresh air.

  13. I agree w/your analysis of TP's plot lines – Plots A-C pretty much sums him up. Which is why when I contemplate "what kind of woman I want to be," I am fairly certain that for me, the answer will NOT be inside a TP film.

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