Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tyler Perry: Helping or Hurting Perceptions of Black Masculinity?

Today in class, when we discussed black men playing the stereotypical black Grandma, I immediately thought of Tyler Perry. Perry is a prominent black actor,director, and producer. He is known for his Grandma roles in the "Madea" films that he makes ("Diary of a Mad Black Woman," "Madea's Family Reunion," "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," et al.) In each of these films, Perry plays a heavy-set, aggressive, yet loving black grandmother. Perry masters his character very well, and plays Madea's husband at the same time throughout most of the films.

The potential problem here, is that Perry's films tend to portray black males in a very negative light. While the message of his films are usually uplifting and relatable to the black community, it is debated that Perry might be perpetuating the violent perceptions of black males through his plot choices. In "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," for example, one of the female characters is in an abusive relationship to a morally-deprived black male. It is a Latino male who steps in and saves her. In "Madea's Family Reunion," though one of the female characters ends up happily married to a good black male, she first endures an incredibly abusive relationship with a rich black male. According to black film director Ernest Harris, Perry's most recent film, "For Colored Girls," also places black males in the criminal, misogynist, abusive category:

"It sure does get old being portrayed as the villain in popular culture.

I am referencing the latest in a long line of heavily hyped feature films that jump on the bandwagon that seems to believe the only real Black man is a drug dealing, two-timing, woman-hating, physically abusive criminal, as is portrayed in Tyler Perry's latest film, For Colored Girls."

So while paying homage to all of the tough, motherly black matriarchs, Perry might be lacking in portraying enough positive images of black males. Here's the full article from the Huffington Post by Harris on this debate:


Any comments? In my opinion, Perry is doing positive work by casting phenomenal black actors in a film market that centers on the racial majority. His profound messages can be felt by all races, not simply african americans. The fact that he writes movies like "Daddy's Little Girls" with a black male character who fights for his daughters, shows that Perry isn't denigrating black masculinity.


  1. I personally have never seen one of Tyler Perry's films precisely because I have been told that I wouldn't understand them. I don't know if that's true or not, and I should probably watch one to see if it is, but what I have heard from other people, especially my friends who are African-American, is that I wouldn't understand them because I am white. My interest is definitely piqued though, and I would like to watch one of his films just because of the buzz they have generated and also to see if these concepts about black masculinity apply.

  2. I haven't seen a Tyler Perry film either, but I definitely wanted to talk about that in class Tuesday but I since I haven't seen any of them I didn't have anything intelligent to say. I HAVE seen his shows on TBS though and they're just sad. Not funny, but sad. For some reason it's not finding the remote, making my ass look big, and crazy dancing that fills up that half-hour time slot. Seriously Tyler Perry?

  3. Kelsey - Do see one of his films! They are quite good. I highly recommend Madea's Family Reunion. I understand what some of your black friends mean by that comment...There are some nuances that may only be relatable to blacks within the movies. But that can be said about a lot of films, books, and music for that matter.

    Arjun - I must agree on that point. I think the show you mention is called House of Payne. The main characters are very overweight, and the whole show kind of seems loud and obnoxious to me. Not the best reflection of black culture in my opinon...

    On the note of black masculinity in mainstream culture, I think Steve Harvey is an excellent example of a positive black male.

  4. I'm trying to track down a blog entry that pushes back on some of these questions a bit more intelligently than I will here.

    At this point, all of you are quite aware of how theory is functioning. I think it's completely appropriate for you to start asking why theory is functioning in the way that it does. One really narrow way to ask that question is this: Why do movie and television representations matter at all? Why should we theorize them? No one has ever accused Tyler Perry of being a particularly good artist--say like Dave Chappelle. Why are we bothering with this pop culture stuff? Shouldn't we be reading books?

    I'm partially playing the Devil's Advocate here. However, I'm also sincerely interested in how you respond to those questions at this point in the semester.

  5. Please excuse my comment about obesity. It wasn't very appropriate. I guess what I was trying to say is that I just never got into the plotline/comedy of the show.

    I think TV and film matter because we consistently identify with people and other representations of media. This is one reason why advertisers, for example, have a certain level of power over viewers/consumers. (Levi ad, "soap ads" previously discussed)

    Pop culture is important because its goal (I think) is to represent our current and future society/culture.