Appreciating Tyler Perry, Sort Of
You can't be a snob about Tyler Perry films because they serve a need.
What's not so reassuring, though, watching Why Did I Get Married, Too?, is Perry's complicated creative relationship with women. (The Root requested an interview with Perry, but a publicist said that he is not doing any press.) On the one hand, these days, he's probably the biggest employer of African-American actresses. (And he, along with Oprah Winfrey, produced Precious: Based On The Novel By Sapphire.) Too bad he doesn't give them better roles: His women are all over-the-top harridans, pathologically jealous Sapphires or deceptive and devious Jezebels. Or they're bordering on sainthood, like Jill Scott's Sheila. (Tyler seems to have particular venom for the professional black woman--she's almost always a manipulative she-devil who finds her comeuppance from the good, blue-collar brother.) The men function as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the action ("Don't you know all women are crazy.") while the women wild out.
Not that that's likely to change any time soon. Tyler's got his formula, and he's sticking to it. But I've come to the conclusion that the problem isn't that there is a Tyler Perry out there making movies. It's that there aren't enough cinematic August Wilsons. Or Suzan-Lori Parkses. Or Lynn Nottages. Give me a healthy dose of smart, insightful, highbrow black creativity, and I can laugh right along with everybody else on the lowbrow stuff and its folk-wisdom truths. The problem is when there's too much lowbrow, I begin to resent it. White Hollywood leaves me out. With them, I don't feel seen or represented. With Tyler Perry, I--we--are indeed represented. And I give him props for that. I just wish that, in his representation of us, we weren't so continuously and cartoonishly exaggerated.
Teresa Wiltz is The Root's senior editor. Follow her on Twitter