Tyler Perry defends his movies against claims of racial stereotyping

I am one of those people who has never been able to sit through a Tyler Perry movie. I can’t even stand more than two minutes of his aptly-named “House of Payne,” a terribly unfunny show on TBS. But taste is relative, and Perry’s movies have proved that more than once at the box office. In fact, Perry’s latest film, “Madea Goes to Jail,” is Perry’s highest-grossing film so far, raking in $75 million. But critics say Perry’s movies are full of negative African-American stereotypes that do nothing to help change attitudes towards race relations. One detractor went so far as to call his success the “demonization of educated, successful African-Americans.” Of course, Perry is laughing at these critics- all the way to the bank.

“Tyler keeps saying that Madea is based on black women he’s known, and maybe so,” says Donald Bogle, acclaimed author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. ”But Madea does have connections to the old mammy type. She’s mammy-like. If a white director put out this product, the black audience would be appalled.”

“These stories have come out of my own pain and everything I’ve been through,” [Perry] says, referring to his six years of struggle, including three months living in his car in Atlanta before his plays became such huge hits in Southern black theaters that even Hollywood couldn’t ignore him. “These characters are simply tools to make people laugh. And I know for a fact they have helped, inspired, and encouraged millions of people.”

…Right now there are so few consistent, high-profile representations of African-Americans in film – Will Smith and Denzel Washington are pretty much it – that Perry has a near monopoly on the depiction of American black life on the screen. That gives him power beyond the images he puts in his movies; it makes him the top employer of black actors in Hollywood (not to mention Atlanta, where he owns a 200,000 square-foot production house, which produces his TV sitcom, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne). In other words, if you’re an African-American actor, Perry is the biggest boss in town, which explains the reluctance of so many black actors, even those who’ve appeared in his films, to talk about Perry on the record.

…Perry himself is keenly aware of the responsibilities resting on his shoulders. And while his critics aren’t likely to hurt business…the filmmaker also doesn’t want to be hemmed in by race. “After Obama became president, I realized that black people could not have put him in the White House- it had to be a collective effort of everyone in the country,” Perry says. “My fan base crosses all ages, all cultures, all classes. I won’t be forced to do just Madea. There’s no way I’m going to do that.”

[From Entertainment Weekly]

Good god, I hope not. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of actors willing to put on a fat suit and a wig to get cheap laughs. Let’s see what else Perry has to offer. I’m so conflicted. On the one hand, I hate his movies. They’re so stupid! But I also love his story – a Hollywood outsider goes from living in his car to opening at number one at the box office. I do concede his point that there are not nearly enough opportunities for minorities in Hollywood- but is making bad, racially charged movies really the answer? I guess for millions of movie-going Americans, it is – so why would he make any changes?

Photos are stills from Madea Goes to Jail thanks to AllMoviePhoto

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24 Responses to “Tyler Perry defends his movies against claims of racial stereotyping”

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  1. eternalcanadian says:

    i have to say while the movies are funny, they are very stereotypical. just once i would like to see a movie where ethnicity, gender, or ability is not stereotyped.

  2. HS says:

    I LOVE MADEA. She is funny as hell. And so what if he uses stereotypes. Big. freaking. deal.

  3. RAN says:

    Ditto HS, I LOVE Madea! For the record, all of my African American friends do too.

    Shoot… Diary of a Mad Black Woman was MADE because Madea was in it. Otherwise, it had the potential to be just another movie. I guess you could call it out for “stereotypical” characters, but name one movie created from a white, black, jewish, etc., (writer, director, producer)that doesn’t stereotype something. Could be gang violence – stereotyping the Bronx type areas, Mafia style violence – stereotyping Italians, Sport violence – stereotyping violence in sports… etc. It’s everywhere.

    As a nation, we’ve got to stop being so uber sensitive to all the pc and non pc crap. I just don’t see it as overly necessary. The movies are funny – take them at face value.

  4. anna says:

    Diary of a Mad Black Woman- If ther’s one Tyler Perry film people should see, it’s this one. I absolutely DID NOT want to see this, thinking it was another stupid Madea comedy…but it surprised me–it wasn’t.

    In short, it’s a poignant and sensitive film about a married woman (played by Kimberly Elise)who is wronged by her philandering husband, who leaves her for a golddigger.. and how she still stands by him without losing her dignity.

    Who ever put together the marketing campaign for this film had the wrong images for the movie poster, the wrong message.

    The film surprised me about Tyler Perry.

  5. anna says:

    Also– here’s a person’s review that I cut & pasted from IMDB.com that is helpful:

    “Too many critics are taking this movie TOO seriously and I believe it is not Mr. Perry’s intent. The movie is to keep the audience attracted by inserting comical twists and turns throughout – therefore, the use of Madea. Additionally, the movie explains issues within the black family while applying a spiritual message and lesson. Although it is apparent that the target audience was the black family who has additionally supported Mr. Perry’s theatrical career, MY family and I equally enjoyed it and feel it could be applied to our culture and ethnic group as well. I am now interested in seeing more Tyler Perry movies and plays with my family. The issues that face our society are not color blind. “

  6. RAN says:

    You’re right Anna, that movie had just the right touch of everything. I was actually rooting for the wife to do the husband harm, but she didn’t. Excellent movie

  7. Terrian says:

    I don’t really like the Tyler Perry movies and tv shows because it doesn’t work well in front of a camera. His style and the way the show is made up works a lot better on a stage instead of television. That’s the only real problem I have with it. Other than that I don’t think you could possibly understand the context of his shows because you are not black yourself. Yes, some things in his writings are stereotypical but it is mostly poking fun. I think white people looking on the outside take it too seriously.

  8. Ursula says:

    I liked Madea, a lot. I do like Tyler Perry. I think he has a lot of talent.

  9. RUFFNSWEET says:

    I agree with Terrian. I am an african-american. I do not like any of Tyler Perry’s movies or tv show. I do however absolutely love his plays. The movies and tv show are horrible. They don’t work well in front of the camera at all. I really don’t understand why the movies are so popular. Oh well, to each his own.

  10. Sumeria says:

    Medea is not a stereotype, but rather an archetype borrowed from traditional theatre –The Clown. The clown’s role is to be the audience in the story, slapping those who need a slap, or interpreting for those who do not see the big picture. In film, this role is usually played by the voice over or a character who speaks directly to the camera. This archetype is often found in work that seeks to encourage social change. For those who actually care, check out the work of Agusto Boal, particularly Theatre of the Oppressed.
    As for the rest of the characters in the films, while they may be written a little thinly –good/bad, blessed/evil, abuser/victim etc, at least there is more than one “face” of black being portrayed. Something I still do not find in traditional films. In Perry’s films Blacks are not used for decoration or flavour, but rather have stories that actually revolve around them.
    There is something to be said for the work being culturally bound. While the messages are universal, the humour is not always. In my own home I ROTHLMAO, while my partner who usually shares my humour but happens to be White/Jewish, shakes his head and wonders what it is I find so funny. While I am Canadian, I do have American relatives, so I like Perry, know and love women like Medea. Thus I laugh not only at the joke, but at the reflection of experiences in my life.
    I do however look forward to a time when Perry moves further to an integrated world. If the film he did with Kathy Bates is any indication, his integrated world is much closer to the one I live in than any other I have seen.

  11. Because I Say So says:

    I’d like to believe he’s more than a one-trick pony, but so far, no good. I’m glad he’s successful as a black writer/producer/director, but I don’t understand his movie appeal to other black folks. They’re not funny and just plain stupid. Stereotypes aside, he writes to the humor level of 3 year olds

  12. Hieronymus Grex says:

    Let a white person make the same sort of movie and watch the protests.

  13. Terrian says:

    A white person wouldn’t be able to make the same kind of story even if they tried.

  14. Hieronymus Grex says:

    Oh yeah that’s right, because urban black street life is surrounded by the profound wall of impenetrable mystery no one can comprehend- puh-lease.

    Explain Eminem to me then?

  15. Imara219 says:

    Actually, Eminem is irrelevant to this argument because he speaks to being a poor white man growing up in the underbelly neighborhood of Detroit. His story resonates with poor African-Americans because he is talking about his socio-economic status. He does not purport to be anything but a white man. He is not a token “wigger” so to speak. Just a white man, growing up poor, interested in rap.

  16. Imara219 says:

    Totally forgot to speak on Perry. I don’t understand Entertainment Weekly’s article because it appears that many of Perry’s detractors don’t notice his board audience. White and black people are in the audience, when I see the movie. Perry’s movies have a religious and positive message and as an Afro-American Studies major, his movies never tip off red flags on his representation of race. I grew up watching Martin Lawrence and Jamie Foxx put on skirts for intriguing comedy. So I don’t really understand what the issue is with Perry. I’ve seen all of his movies and instead of race I believe his movies have more of an age gap. They are funnier to my older relatives. Black community is extremely diverse and I see that in Perry’s movies.

  17. Annie says:

    Let a white person make the same sort of movie and watch the protests.

    The award for most obvious statement goes to….

    Let a minority make a Joe Dirt type film and watch the protests.

    Listen, after hundreds of years of subjugation to someone merely because my skin was darker, let me mock myself as I deem fit. It’s like using the N word for positive instead of negative (semantic inversion!) It’s taking these “notions” we’ve contrived as “black” and turning it into something laughable. Laughable in the sense that it is a ridiculous exaggeration of how people are. Not laughable in the sense that the black persona is a joke. It’s not.

  18. Michelle says:

    As a 26 year old white girl I love his movies. My 27 yo white husband loves them. My 30 yo black co-worker loves them. My 52 yo white church friend loves them. Until today, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like his movies. As far as stereotyping, I think Ice Cube’s movies are worse (although I like them too). Diary of a Mad Black Woman had me wishing the ex would have drowned in the bath she wheeled him into. Madea herself may seem stereotypical but many of the characters are great and I don’t see them as stereotyped. I think Perry is great too. And I agree that Medea is the clown.

  19. cakes says:

    Really? Tyler Perry has characters that are well educated and in my opinion DO NOT portray any negative stereotypes at all. Madea reminded me of my friends grandma and she was white!

    I figure it would be negative stereotyping if you brought in the ghetto, made all the characters loud and obnoxious and using the slang. But the characters are well spoken and,well, classy.
    How is that negative stereotyping?

  20. jayem says:

    I am Black and I can’t stand Tyler Perry’s movies, nor the tv show. It’s not necesarily that I think they’re sterotypical, since I think the frequent stereotypes in most movies where the cast is primarily Black are hilarious. The difference is, Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle are actually funny! Tyler Perry is not.

    And anyone who thinks it’s dignified to throw a paralyzed man into a bathtub should have the same fate belied upon them and then see how funny it is!

  21. Autumm Leaves says:

    jayem and ruffnsweet couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve watched all the Perry plays and I can’t stand the movies, nor the tv shows. Frankly, I’m sick of the stereotypical comedies about one side of blacks and not the multilayer culture of blacks. The Cosby’s back in the 80s thankfully brought a different perspective, but shows like Perry’s regressed black comedy back to the 70s.

  22. BabyGirl says:

    I love Tyler Perry. All his movies, play, and sitcoms. He keeps it real for us and at the same time shows us how to deal with life situations and there is always someone there by your side. Whether or not you have to wait for Madea to get out of jail to help and be there may be another story, but you can count on her. If I ever meet Tyler Perry I wouldn’t tell him to change nothing in the world about what he does. Hell. I would like to be in one of them one day.
    Keep making them good ones Tyler.

  23. Malu says:

    I Love Tyler Perry plays and movies. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, however, those people that are trying to BASH his art/creativity are just mad at themselves. If you do not like his work, why would you take the time to say how bad his shows and movies were? Just don’t watch them! Tyler Perry you are gifted and I LOVE your talent. You keep doing what you do and GOD will continue pouring out the blessings. Whether it be through Madea or not you will have something special that the people talking negative about you will never understand. Critics make your talent stronger. I enjoy and appreciate what you do. Thank You!

  24. ll says:

    i dont think its that he employs stereotypes. stereotypes done well can be really enjoyable. i think it says a lot about a people when we can get to a place where the stereotypes are nothing more than humorous…because they are essentially irrelevant. i feel like when you can honestly laugh at something without taking any offense…then you truly have made it powerless. if you constantly feel the need to tiptoe around an issue…its still an issue, lol.

    well, my issue is flat out – perry doesnt employ stereotypes well. and its a bit disappointing considering, as mentioned in the article, he really is the only african american in the position and with the apparent desire to influence hollywood the way he has. this means i cant even really name ways it could be done better because hes got a corner on the market.

    i will say, i love racial comedy. i like a range of comedians but my favorite ones tend to be minorities, chris rock, dl hughley, margaret cho, russel peters etc. the minority experience in a predominantly white usa is a goldmine of comedy that i, as a minority myself enjoy and relate to along with people of all races and genders. i dont think perry manages to be so inclusive in a large part because he is so easy to find unfunny. poorly fleshed out plots, characters, scripts and the use of stereotypes as a crutch instead of a tool (im looking at you too madea) kills it for me. from personal experience while i have repeatedly sat in a mixed room to watch a chris rock show, i dont know many people outside of my black family who i could entice into seeing a perry movie.

    yes he may do well for 3 weeks in the box office, but does he want to me in the same category as other terrible high grossing movies – meet the spaartans, epic movie, norbit, etc.

    you know what was a good movie, featuring a majority black leading class, “i think i love my wife” or even “guess who?” not amazing movies but with some genuine laughs…which i sorely miss watching a tyler perry debacle.