An Open Letter to Tyler Perry

Dear Mr. Perry,

Do you like women? Not “like” as in gay or straight, but “like” as in respect. I have seen a few of your films now – Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, and Why Did I Get Married? And increasingly, I find myself questioning whether you truly love, respect, and appreciate women in their own right.

Don’t get me wrong. I have found your films entertaining and thought-provoking, even if a little over the top. I have laughed, groaned, and mourned along with your characters. And I have truly appreciated your attempt to portray black women in roles that expand beyond the skimpily dressed, booty shaking figures that we see on MTV and BET. In your latest film, Why Did I Get Married?, you made a point of depicting professional, highly educated black women. And as woman with a few graduate degrees, I saw part of myself in your characters’ struggles to balance work, family, and self.

But at the end of every film, I was discomfited despite having had a good laugh. And when people asked me whether I liked the movie, I struggled to express the conflicting feelings within: I was entertained and glad I saw it but I’m not sure that I liked it and perhaps I could have waited for the DVD.

Leaving the theatre after viewing Why Did I Get Married?, my husband and I did our standard check in. “What’d you think?” he said. “It was entertaining but…” I paused before continuing, “I’m starting to wonder if Tyler Perry likes women.”

You see, Mr. Perry, I have noticed a disturbing pattern in how you resolve your films: the solution to the woman’s problems is always located in a man. You seem to think women incapable of standing on their own, being happy, whole, and successful outside of a relationship with a man.

Let me assure you that I am not one of those “I don’t need a man” sisters. I have been married for 10 years now and my husband’s unconditional love and support has helped me to become who I am. However, I have also learned that my ability to truly love my husband is only made possible because loving him is a choice which I freely make – over and over again. I am not with him because I am afraid of being alone. I am not with him because I think that life would be meaningless without him. I am not with him because I feel otherwise incomplete. I am certain that I could live – and thrive – without my husband. But I choose to share life without him because he makes it richer. I’ve come to think of my marriage as the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae: the sundae is good by itself, but the cherry makes it different and better (and Mr. Perry – I really like cherries).

But your idea of “happily ever after” always involves a woman finding happiness in a new relationship or becoming a “better wife.” Your female characters transfer their emotional dependency from one man to another. (Really, couldn’t Helen have at least gotten an apartment of her own before investing her happiness in Orlando? Couldn’t Sheila have done the same before marrying Sheriff Troy, less than a year after her divorce from Mike?) Professional women sacrifice their career aspirations in order to accommodate their husband’s desire for more children. (Dianne’s concern about pregnancy jeopardizing her career was a valid one held by many women. Rather than trivializing it as “selfish,” perhaps she and Terry could have had a discussion about how to accommodate her professional aspirations as they raised their family, instead of her “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you” speech. I’m not saying that marriage should not involve compromise. I’m just asking for a little reciprocity). And sisters who seem to have it together, including supportive husbands, turn out to be emotionally repressed. (Why couldn’t you at least let Patricia be emotionally balanced, given the fact that you portrayed three seemingly healthy men? Do you really think we’re all screwed up?).

I’m worried because I’ve seen a lot of women like this – in my personal life and in my career as a psychologist. I’ve seen women who sacrificed their educational and occupational dreams because their husband’s job required frequent moves or forced them to take on a disproportionate share of family and household responsibilities (in addition to their jobs). I’ve seen women who have denied themselves to take care of the needs of everyone around them. These women have ended up in my office – depressed, anxious, overweight, and just plain stressed out. And all the while feeling like they had no right to complain because “at least I have a good man.”

I really appreciate your emphasis on forgiveness in your movies. But I wish you’d also emphasize the importance of reciprocity as well as individual health and fulfillment. I know that you’re trying to do something good, so I want to push you to do more. Because ultimately, I believe that you do like women, that you love women. You just don’t know how. So right now all you’re doing is replacing one stereotype – the sex-craved jezebel – with two others that are slightly better – the needy, victimized woman or the superstrong sister. You’re pulling the rug from beneath us even as you give us legs. And unfortunately, because many of us are so battle weary from the assault on our images, we don’t realize that we should expect better. But we deserve better. And I have faith that you can – and want to – do better.

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4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Tyler Perry

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hello,You know what I dont understand? How you can have a comment on TP’s movies when you dont get them? It’s obvious that you have the stage to write what you want,why wont do you write something that you can relate too?And your husband ask what again????? WOW!

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  2. South Howard says:

    I think Sheila was raised with religous devotion where she felt the desire to please God . I had a father that ran the first young lady I dated away from our home with a switch. He said boy you don’t bring no girl to this house unless you are married. I promised from that day forward I would stay married,even if it took(4)tries.I think the movie should have had Shelia father as a character.

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  3. I AGREE 100%. I AM AN AFRICAN HETERO WOMAN THAT HAS A PROBLEM WITH THE IMAGES THAT MR PERRY PORTRAYS…I LOVE MR. PERRY AND HIS WORK AND I GIVE KUDOS TO A YOUNG BROTHER FOR RISING ABOVE THE ODDS.YOUR POINTS ARE VERY VALID. WHEN I’M DONE WATCHING A TYLER PERRY MOVIE OR PLAY, I AM LEFT WITH THE FEELING AS IF SOMETHING IS MISSING.I DON’T FEEL REPRESENTED AT ALL, I AM SURE THAT MR. TYLER’S PLAYS ARE FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. HE REFERS TO US AS MANIACAL, AND HAVING LOW SELF ESTEEM. BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP WHICH MEANS THAT YOU CAN SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE ON THE INSIDE. I BELIEVE THAT NO HARM IS MEANT WITH THE IMAGES, IF YOU TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT YOURSELF, YOU WOULDN’T HAVE ANY HARD FEELINGS BECAUSE 1ST AND FOREMOST MR. PERRY IS A MAN.NO MAN CAN ACCURATELY DESCRIBE HOW I FEEL SEE THINK HEAR ETC BECAUSE HE WILL NEVER WALK IN MY SHOES. AS AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN, WE CAN ONLY ERASE THE NEGATIVE STEREOTYPICAL IMAGES OF OURSELVES OURSELVES.WE HAVE TO BREAK AWAY FROM THE NEGATIVITY ON OUR OWN AND BEGIN TO REACH OUR FUTURE GENERATION OF WOMEN. IF YOU SEE A YOUNG GIRL THAT IS ON HER WAY TO SELF DESTRUCTION, HOW WOULD YOU APPROACH HER? WOULD YOU TURN YOUR NOSE UP AND WALK AWAY? THE ANSWER IS EACH ONE TEACH ONE.

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  4. Your piece really resonated with me. I think you made some fantastic points and as much as I love the brother, I am getting tired of the messages I'm receiving – but I'm more concerned with the messages THE REST OF THE WORLD is receiving about us…

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