Apr 08 2010

Lessons Learned from a White Guy Watching Tyler Perry Movies

Published by at 4:15 pm under Columns,Movies

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Apologies to anyone about to somehow be offended by this post, but I really don’t think anyone should be. Also, I say “black” all the time because I didn’t feel like writing out “African-American” sixty times.

I was at my local movie house in Michigan this past weekend to unfortunately witness the idiotic pile of nonsense that was Clash of the Titans. On my way into the theater, I saw a line for another movie playing next door, a line made up quite literally of 100% black people.

Being the deductive sleuth I am, I immediately said to myself, “Oh there must be another Tyler Perry movie out.” If that sounds like some sort of racial jab, it’s not, it’s the logical conclusion to draw when you see a movie that A) has patrons all of one race and B) has a line for it. Knowing that practically every Tyler Perry movie ever has won its opening weekend, I figured this must be a fair assessment.

And guess what? I was right. Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too was opening, and explained the homogeneous line forming for it.

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It was then I decided to do an experiment. Practically every white person I know enjoys ripping on Tyler Perry movies to some degree. The seemingly obvious pandering, the cross dressing and fat suits, the constant use of “Tyler Perry” in every title. They’re pretty easy targets.

But how many white people have actually SEEN a Tyler Perry movie? Judging by that line, and others I’ve seen like it over the past ten years of similar racial makeup, I’m guessing barely any. So on Sunday, I downloaded rented two Tyler Perry flicks to see why A) white people avoid them and B) black people love them.

I decided to go with Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married, the movie whose sequel I had just seen playing at the theater, and Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself because I remember writing several posts in the past making fun of that nonsensical title.

I thought this would be hilarious exercise in “white guy doesn’t get black culture,” but what I found actually surprised me in a lot of ways.

There are a large number of white people who often view black people in stereotypes. It’s true, and you can shut the hell up if you won’t admit that exists in society today. Many associate “black culture” with rap and basketball, and not a whole lot more than that.

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But being a stereotype, we forget that even though yes, there are black people who play basketball and love rap, the VAST majority of them do NOT conform to such visions, and more specifically, there is an entire segment of the population that is overlooked by practically every entertainment force out there.

Middle-aged and older black people place very, very high value on family and God, something that Tyler Perry knows and has tapped into. His movies (at least the ones I saw) are illustrations in family values and morality, and have captured an audience who prize themselves on those things above all else.

Why Did I Get Married tells the story of four couples struggling through various issues in their marriage while on a get-away in the Colorado mountains. There’s an overworking wife who doesn’t have time for her husband, a couple dealing with the death of a child, a pair with a problem with infidelity, and one emotionally abusive relationship between an asshole and his overweight wife. Similarly, I Can Do Bad All By Myself tells the story of a woman forced to take care of her dead sister’s children against her will, dealing all the while with a physically abusive boyfriend.

Yes, it’s true, all of these movies are almost ENTIRELY populated by an African-American cast (a white woman once showed up to imply a black character was about to steal something), but there is nothing exclusively “black” about them besides a few gospel songs here and there (one which includes the inexplicable “I Can Do Bad” title that STILL makes no sense).

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I caught a brief glimpse of Tyler Perry’s trademark “Madea” character in the second film, which isn’t so much a caricature of anyone’s old black grandmother, she’s just a ridiculous ass person all around, and I will say she heavily confused the mood of what was supposed to be a drama in I Can Do Bad. I don’t really have the heart to watch a Madea-centric film like Madea Goes to Jail however. At that point it’s just Big Momma’s House in different locales.

Tyler Perry’s films are decently written and acted, though they can be pretty heavy handed with their life lessons. Everything is always resolved to perfection, and the movies seem more like a audio/video version of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Yes, it’s statistically true that black woman are much more likely to be single mothers, and black fathers are more likely to be absent, but these stories really could apply to any race. It’s just that Tyler Perry uses them to target the concerned aging black population who is worried about the destruction of the traditional black family, as they are willing to sit through a rather boring, cliché movie so long as everyone’s happy, and more importantly, married in the end.

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White people would never go for this. White people don’t want to watch a movie about couples working through marital strife. If they do, they want it to be something like Closer, where Clive Owen cheats on Julia Roberts with Natalie Portman as a stripper. For every boring family drama like Everybody’s Fine, there are a dozen Nicholas Sparks movies which contain not familial love, but insanely unrealistic romance love that involves kissing in the rain and almost exclusively white casts in every single movie.

With that in mind, it’s strange to complain about how Tyler Perry’s all-black movies are furthering divides among the races by giving blacks “their own” movies to go to. When you look at Hollywood as a whole, and you view the kind of roles that blacks are usually given onscreen, you will see a whole lot of sidekicks, slasher victims and Denzel Washington. So when Tyler Perry gives them a franchise to call their own, of COURSE they’re going to flock to it, and rightfully so if it’s what entertains them.

So hopefully I haven’t been too offensive in this article, and it turned out to be a lot less funny than I anticipated, but I do feel like I learned a little something, though I probably won’t be going to the theater to check out Madea’s next adventure anytime soon.





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40 responses so far

  • PJ Be

    good article. the idea that white people want to see sex while a black audience wants family is an interesting one.

  • http://www.milehighnerds.com Warren

    This is a good article, and I can’t imagine anyone being offended by it. I can’t say I’ve ever seen any Tyler Perry movies though me and my friends do make our share of ‘Tyler Perry’s Generic Movie Title’ jokes. I have seen a few episodes of House of Payne though and I find that show terribly unfunny.

    I especially like the fact that you went in expecting high comedy at the absurdity of the movies, came away finding that they were just movies about people, and still wrote the article.

  • mom ditched me

    interesting article for sure…

  • Marc

    This is a little racist…

  • http://www.bibbyroo.blogspot.com Bibbyroo

    I find it interesting that you take so much caution about making any form of black stereotypes, but then you seem to have no problem at all with giving a blanket statement about white people. not all of us are interested in movies like ‘closer’ (perhaps thats why it didn’t do so well at the box office?), or the rediculous romances of those other films. perhaps tyler perry is making movies that hollywood isnt making, black or white.

  • redobsidion

    As a black gay male, Tyler perry is very hit or miss with me. he has a ton of movies, a handful of them are really good, like the Family that preys, why did i get married, diary of a mad black women,and daddy’s little girls. The problem i have with them is that he gets to 80% of presenting blacks as something other than stereotypes; he actually gives you three dimensional characters. However the 20% where he fails is the exact opposite where he presents a character that is such a stereotype it ruins the whole movie. i think it’s because he grew up around the best example of black folks and the worst, and so he has a hard time finding the middle ground. but that being said he’s doing well for himself and i wish him more success. although i would like to see other directors make more black centric films is tyler perry the only person making films targeted to blacks because he’s the best at it or because he’s the only one proven to work ? the answer is no he’s not the best. If you Really want to see an excellent Black film check out Eve’s buyou one of the greatest films of all time IMO.

  • Orleanas

    The tone of this post is someone unlike the sardonic, macho, kickass wit that makes me like this site so much, but I think the tone is appropriate and reflective of the uncertainty and fear of speaking about race, particularly in regards to “black and white” issues. There was nothing, IMO, offensive or racist about your post, yet apologies were sprinkled along the way, which I think is unfortunate. In any case, your observations were accurate, as they reflected a general truth. As we (both black females, 29) exited the theater last Friday after seeing a humdrum Clash of the Titans, my friend remarked humorously, “Oh wow! A crowd a black folks. Wonder what movie they just saw.” We chuckled and began a conversation in the same vein as this post, bemoaning the fact that Perry’s films tend to be preachy about morality and are therefore formulaic, but that he fulfills a need, as decent films reflecting aspects of black life and culture a la The Best Man, Waiting to Exhale and other mid-90s films no longer exist. We also reflected that just as the 80s was the season for Spike Lee, this is the season for Perry. It’s part of the cycle.

    I respect Perry for what he has achieved, and though I can’t say his films are yet award-nomination worthy, at least they have a point, unlike many garbage that get the green light in mainstream Hollywood. In any case, he’s a hit or miss. To date I’ve only seen five of his films, three of which on DVD. His Medea stuff I’m not gung-ho about as I think his non-Medea films are better. House of Payne, I agree is truly stereotyped foolishness and garbage.

    Sorry for this long post, but I enjoyed and appreciate your article. Found nothing racist about it.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    @Orleanas

    I don’t like being overly apologetic and I realize it’s against my usual tone here, but I’ve been burned in the past saying things about race I thought were innocuous but apparently offensive to the oversensitive, hence all the caution here.

  • iThink

    Ok you made some good points, but the issue I have with this is, you chose like two bad movies to see. If you were going to rate Tyler Perry, you should have seen, Diary of a Mad Black Woman or Daddy’s Little Girls or The Family That Preys (which has white ppl in it, like heavily). @Orleanas: You are totally right, those good “black” movies from back in the day don’t exist anymore, Like the Best Man, Love & basketball , or Brown Sugar (I’m a Sanaa Lathan fan if you didn’t realize). the thing with me is, I know what I’m getting into when I go see Tyler Perry movies. I expect to get preached to and to see stereotypes being portrayed. But the reason i like the movies is not because I can relate to to race of the actors or anything, but because Tyler Perry brings out extremely strong emotions in me. Whenever I see, Charles (the husband in diary of a mad black woman) drag his wife out of her house because he brought in his girlfriend and their kids, I just get so into the movie saying things like “if my husband tried that, I’d do this…” or “what kind of woman let’s a man do that.” I love it, his movies provide for great discussion on current issues that don’t just affect the black community, but worldwide. All I really want to say is that you see what you want to see, if you go into the movie expecting certain things from a particular director, then thats what you will see. I am very proud of Tyler Perry, at least he is being a positive role model to the youth of black america rather than ppl like Soulja Boy. Oh and I hate House of Payne and Family Reunion. His plays are good though.

  • chelsea

    i just wanted to mention the travesty of “death at a funeral” being made into a “black movie”… with a couple whites thrown in for some reason.

    has anyone seen the original english movie that came out 3 years ago and was hilarious? it’s a shame that there are studios greenlighting “racially specific movies” especially when the original was in english, only a couple years old and not needed to be “dumbed down”… i may get flack for saying that, but it’s true.

    i’ve never seen a tyler perry movie, because none of them seem to have anything i want to see…. and i will watch pretty much anything and everything.

  • half white person

    Your white stereotypes are the offensive part of this article. Maybe you don’t know of any of the family-oriented “white people” movies because you don’t care for them yourself – in which case, you can only speak for yourself. Generalizing “white people” like you did is the racist and just plain foolish part of this article.

    Yes, several Tyler Perry movies are hilarious and well-written, and it is refreshing to see an all-black cast that aren’t cast for token reasons. That’s the secret.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    Drat! Reverse racism accusations! Should have seen that one coming. The fact is, no one gives a shit about offending white people, because they just don’t get offended about stuff like this, myself included.

  • Marc

    There you go again with the Generalizations…

  • tom

    Paul, try not to be such a wuss your whole life.

    If you think something’s worthwhile to write on your blog, then don’t apologize for it. If you think it’s offensive and that’s scares you, then don’t write it to begin with.

    Otherwise, man up, write what you think, and stop kowtowing to a bunch of race-baiters and professional victims. Face it, you’re a white male, people are going to call you racist no matter what you say or do.

  • Marc

    Wait, I can get paid to be a victim?

  • ajwondagreek

    Tyler Perry has stated in plenty of interviews that his sole intent is to make films that show a side of African American life that is neglected by the mainstream entertainment industry. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is the reason most people (black or white) go to see his movies.

    I find very few viewers concerned with the socioeconomic status of the characters. Also, plenty of white folks are always in the audience when my girlfriend drags me to see the latest Tyler Perry Production. From my personal observance, there seems to be more interest in the drama, fairytale happy endings, and stereotypical characters. This probably explains the repeated appearances of Madea (and similar over the top characters).

    In my humble opinion, Perry should stick to his playwrights and possibly produce black soap operas. His stories are usually too over-dramatized to take seriously without suspending all disbelief.

  • http://unrealitymag.com Cal

    I’ve never been a Tyler Perry fan. His “hit” tv shows are abominations in my opinion and are about as cringe worthy as black face performances. I’m black and his films don’t do it for me either but I get why his audience love them and I respect it.

    Paul as long as you make your intentions known I see no reason why criticizing a Tyler Perry film would be seen as racist. And imo any black person who reads Unreal should know that this is all tongue in cheek and with no ill intent. South Park does plenty of black parodies and nobody bats an eye because their intent is made clear.

  • Bill Leslie

    No “white” film would be allowed to be made with no black people in it and Tyler Perry does it all the time. And no one says boo.

  • Pingback: Lessons Learned from a White Guy Watching Tyler Perry Movies | Attuworld.com

  • chrystani

    Im black. I can’t STAND Tyler Perry…

    My family is not a bunch of Bible thumping, cheating on husband, single parent, O why am I a victim , Bitter evil black woman, beaking into a gospel song every time we have an issue people

    BUT!

    I will say that he is a HUGE step from those retarded ass “Friday”, “all About the Benjamins”, coonery movies.

    Shit!!! Everyone is racist… Get over it!

  • C

    Tyler Perry’s only crime is being unfunny. Very, very unfunny. Painfully, horribly unfunny. He can make any kind of movie he wants, but if they were any good wouldn’t anyone, regardless of race, color, or creed want to watch?

  • http://philsbs.blogspot.com/ phil

    “Also, I say “black” all the time because I didn’t feel like writing out “African-American” sixty times”

    My roommate in college was so offended by the phrase “African-American,” because he was neither American or African as he is a British National living in Bermuda and studying abroad. He is blacker than a lot of “African-Americans.” and preferred to be called ‘black,’ often call someone out if they called him African-American.
    He asked me once if I wanted to be called Northern European-American and I said no, I was born here, I am just an American and I happen to be white. Calling someone by their skin color is perfectly acceptable because it’s a description of what they look like not who they are. And much like Chris Rock my roommate was more than happy to make jokes to make people understand the differences while playing devils advocate and belittling the naysayer.

    I love how you got a lot of comments on this.

    Oh, Bill Leslie I totally agree with your statement. Imagine opening a promotedly all male college or better yet an all white college, you would be called sexist and racists, and probably get protested, but then look at Morehouse (almost all black) or Melbourne (all girl) college… perfectly acceptable. (and yes promotedly is a word stupid spell checker…) And if you are unaware most so call private schools which admit a majority of males are consortium colleges and are associated with an all girl’s college to receive federal funding and to not be hated…

    Wow you got me going

  • K.

    Actually, Tyler Perry has a growing fan base of all races. Although the characters in his work are almost exclusively black, the stories could relate to anyone.

  • http://twitter.com/djaycas DjayCas

    i can do bad by myself

    meaning, if i wanted life to be terrible i wouldnt need you to bring me down..
    so if thats all youre offering, id prefer to by myself

    get it?

  • LShea

    I’ve seen white people in Tyler Perry movies and I’m from the South.

    No matter what, people always bring up movies w/primarily black casts or BET or black colleges or Ebony magazine or something like that – but the fact of the matter is that black people are doing as some people suggest – if we’re not cast into (non-stereotypical, prominent) roles in films directed by Caucasian directors (and the argument is usually, why SHOULD they be cast) then black people should make movies for themselves. But when black people DO make their own media, have their own this or that, people STILL complain! Doesn’t make sense at all.

  • http:///www.wafeek.com/music feekee

    Hey I’m black, I rap for a living, and I LOVE basketball (go lakers!). I don’t like Tyler Perry flicks personally, but it’s just a matter of taste in cinema. I found this article to be far from offensive, and very much necessary for an open dialogue about race in America.

  • http://myspace.com/nategoodness nate goodness

    “I can do bad all by myself” is a proverbial saying meaning exactly what it says.

    By ourselves we can make our lives good or bad (and even in the pursuit of good we will do bad sometime —> i.e. debts)….
    when we bring people into our lives it is in hope that they can help us be/feel better (do good).

    If that person starts pulling you down and making things bad, you let them go, because you can do bad all by yourself…why keep them around if they’re are gonna add a load of negativity onto that which you created for yourself.

    So if the character in the movie already isn’t living life as well as she could….add to that an abusive boyfriend…then she should let him go because _________do bad all___________

    hope that makes since

  • Cherub

    I’m tired of hearing “I’m black and I hate Tyler Perry.” Don’t need our own race tearing us down too. If u don’t like it don’t see it. If u haven’t taken time to even watch how could u have an opinion? It’s just like when people were crying for a positive black image after Good Times and What’s Hap and Cosby show did just that. Then people were crying, “A black doctor and lawyer? That’s not realistic” Get real. Entertainment is meant to entertain and make $$. Hello.There are gazillions of movies and TV shows with all white casts. And if u haven’t noticed, the majority of just about everything is white. If you’re watching TV and u suddenly see mostly blacks everywhere, ads, shows whatever you’re gonna look to see if u accidentally switched to BET or check your calendar and see if it’s February.

  • livhuwani

    Paul, what a wonderful article. I like watching Tyler Perry movies. Some of them focus on real life issues such as domestic violence. I dont understand why some people are criticising him for giving black actors an opportunity. Who complained about films which has all white casts?Get real and live Tyler Perry alone.

  • Pingback: Unrealty - A White Girl Auditions for a Tyler Perry Movie |

  • Terri

    Great Article,

    I’m Black and this Article was not at all offensive.

    What is offensive to me and other Black Folks is the notion that Some White people have that Tyler Perry is wrong or racist because his movies are predominantly Black. Look at Woody Allen’s Movies ( which I LOVE ) ( and other white film makers) rarely ever have black actors unless it’s the stereotypical role, which I am never offended by but I just can’t understand why so many White people are offended when one Black film makers makes stories with Black Characters.

    I wonder why so many white people want Black people to Assimilate or ponder to Mainstream (White ) culture?

    You MUST SEE ” The Family That Preys” Tyler’s Best Movie and there were many white Characters lol

  • Terri

    The Term African-American is BS. I think most Black people are Comfortable with just being…….. Black

  • Pingback: Unreality Article: White Male Writer Provides His Perspective About Tyler Perry & His Fanbase. « GayBlackCanadianman

  • Carrmita

    As a Black female, no I am not offended by your article. I feel as if you clearly stated your intentions that this was not meant to be offensive.

    Tyler Perry’s movies will either be a hit or miss for people. I’ve heard him say himself in interviews that his pieces aren’t meant to be full of depth or complex ideas and themes. The purpose of his movies are to entertain and teach everyday moral lessons.

    And yes, even though Tyler Perry makes a point to casts all Blacks, he is still handing out stereotypical roles for them, especially the males. Quite interesting, seeing as Perry is an African American male himself.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/07/AR2010110704428_2.html

  • Wiser

    decent article.

    “I thought this would be hilarious exercise in “white guy doesn’t get black culture,” but what I found actually surprised me in a lot of ways.”

    In a expression: “duh”.

    “White people would never go for this. White people don’t want to watch a movie about couples working through marital strife. If they do, they want it to be something like Closer, where Clive Owen cheats on Julia Roberts with Natalie Portman as a stripper.”

    Too true, unfortunately =/.

    One things for sure, humanity needs to start evolving faster than technology. So many ignorant people out there. All in all, Tyler Perry is a very good writer/director/actor, not doubt about that. To be honest though, I wish he wouldn’t use all “black” cast, then again I wish that most Caucasian movies wouldn’t be all “white”… We are so stupid as a species, it’s not even funny. It’s even scientifically proven that all human DNA is 99.9% the same. In other words, there is only ONE race, which is the human race. There are different cultures, but only one race – too many people refused the term “race” with “species” when “race” only refers to culture, not species when it comes to human beings aka homosapiens.

  • DaMack

    I’m black and I think Spike Lee was right his movies suck! If a White man made them there would still be a line of black people outside… protesting this step and fetchit coon show. As an intelligent African American I refused to be racially insulted by any film whether the director is black or white.

  • White Southern Male

    I am a white male, 23, from the South(Arkansas) and the first Tyler Perry movie I saw was “Madea goes to Jail”. I thought it was great, it told a story from a moral standpoint as well as being humorous. After seeing this movie I have watched all the Tyler Perry movies, some are better than others, but I enjoyed them all. The references to God, family, and morality give the movies a character of their own that is missing from the majority of movies produced in this current day and age.

  • Tim

    This was a good article, I’m white and i’ve watched a few Tyler perry movies just because they’re popular and I wanted to see what they were about. I feel like there is a lot of potential with his films but that he relies on gimmicks too much. Madea really doesn’t need to be in most of the films he’s made in the last few years. Hell Madea goes to jail wasn’t even really about her. You can’t put a wacky comedic character in a serious heavy drama, it disrupts the tone and takes the audiance out of the movie.

    That being said he works with a lot of talented actors who are VERY underused in Hollywood. I think the guy has a lot of good ideas and he obviously gets his audience. My only real problem with Tyler Perry movies is the execution, by revising his screenplays a little more (maybe with the help of an experienced screenwriter) I think his films could end up being a lot more focused and he’d have a higher quality picture.

    It makes me sad when people complain about “black” movies or try to suggest that black people are somehow being anti-social or even racist by supporting that kind of entertainment. If minorities were fairly represented in mainstream entertainment there wouldn’t be a BET. If Hollywood actually started to cast more Black, Asian and Hispanic leads then maybe American society could become a little more integrated.

  • Charlie Ward

    “Drat! Reverse racism accusations! Should have seen that one coming. The fact is, no one gives a shit about offending white people, because they just don’t get offended about stuff like this, myself included.”

    The stupidest thing you have ever said, Paul, can be seen above. Bask in its stupid glow. BASK!!!

  • Jen

    @ Tim
    “It makes me sad when people complain about “black” movies or try to suggest that black people are somehow being anti-social or even racist by supporting that kind of entertainment. If minorities were fairly represented in mainstream entertainment there wouldn’t be a BET. If Hollywood actually started to cast more Black, Asian and Hispanic leads then maybe American society could become a little more integrated.”

    You really hit the nail on the head with this comment! Very well stated!

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