Tyler Perry talks race, class, representation & Spike Lee with NY Mag


At some point, I became a Tyler Perry Apologist. It’s not that I think Tyler Perry’s films are particularly good, but I simply think Tyler Perry has the right to exist and create and develop and succeed, and somehow that makes me an apologist. I’m even an advocate for Perry because, at the end of the day, it’s a wonderful thing to see a self-made, self-taught African-American man succeed to this kind of level. Love him or hate him, he’s making money, he’s doing what he loves and he’s employing a hell of a lot of actors of color (not to mention minority talent behind-the-scenes). Perry has a lengthy new interview in the new issue of New York Magazine, and it’s a fascinating read – you can read the whole piece here. Some highlights:

Employing minority actors: “Let’s go down the list. Idris Elba, first movie. Sofía Vergara. Taraji. Kerry Washington. Viola Davis. I honestly don’t know if I had anything to do with that success, all I’m saying is that they all stopped by on their way to wherever they were going.”

What he thinks about Spike Lee’s “coonery” slam: “That ‘coonery’ buffoonery was a direct Spike Lee quote. And that’s what everybody started to say, with those words in particular. But you have to be careful, because our audiences cross-pollinate a lot of times. There’s a lot of my audience that likes what he does. And there’s a lot of his audience that likes what I do. And when you make those kind of broad, general strokes, and you paint your audiences in them, they go, ‘Wait a minute, are you talking about me? Are you talking about my mom?’”

Whether Tyler Perry’s films “make it harder” for black people: “Let me tell you what took me aback about that, when people were like, ‘How dare you put fat black people on television, these are caricatures, these are stereotypes’ — I was so offended because my aunt’s fat. My mother’s fat. My cousins are fat. People who are like, ‘How dare you — these harken back to Mammy, Amos ’n’ Andy.’ I would hear all these things, and I would go, hmmm.” When Amos ’n’ Andy is mentioned, it’s usually code for minstrelsy, but Perry disagrees. In fact, he thinks the real shame was not that black actors played roles on Amos ’n’ Andy, but what happened to them later, when they lost work after the NAACP boycotted the TV show and it was canceled.

The argument is more about class than race: “In some parts of the country, the audience is 60 percent white. And then I went to El Paso, and it was 60 to 70 percent Latino. And then I realized it’s not even about race as much as it is about stories that people can relate to. I know for a fact that a lot of my audience cannot afford to just get in the Volvo and go to a therapist and spend the day off and go to the spa. The laughter and the dress and all of that stuff, it’s just the anesthetic to say, ‘Are you numb now?’ Let’s talk about some real issues…There are so many people that society says their stories don’t matter because they’re poor.”

Representation: “It is unfair for black people to say, ‘Carry my story in your story — show me in your story.’ And for people to say that they’re stereotypes of black people, that’s bullsh-t — it’s offensive. These are real versions of us. And every one of us has the right to tell our own story.”

[From NY Magazine]

I’d just like to point out that I made the race versus class argument years ago with the Tyler Perry issue – he is talking about faith and poverty in many of his films, but many people don’t want to see it that way. I’d also like to say that I think part of the bias against Tyler, his films and his success is about anti-Southern stuff. As in, the rest of America thinks Southerners are backwards hicks and that we’re amused by dumb things. As in, if Southern audiences enjoy Tyler Perry’s movies, the movies must be stupid, right? Anyway… props to Tyler Perry. He was given ample opportunity to say nasty things about his detractors, but he kept it classy and nuanced.


Photos courtesy of WENN.

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33 Responses to “Tyler Perry talks race, class, representation & Spike Lee with NY Mag”

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  1. aims says:

    Say what you will about Taylor’s movies. I like him. I think he’s smart.

  2. QQ says:

    NO This isn’t about class this is about a BAD quality Product, Preachy crap, thinly veiled mysogynoir, About all his women need saving, about You Like sex or stray from respectability politics YOU get AIDS, about Men in Drag doing Sassy Fat Grandmas, instead of say… Employing Loretta Devine if you just meant to have a black woman, its about Pat shitty scripts, He is The worst and Good for him for making a living and hiring people and stuff but NO, NEVER No Country for Tyler Perry

    • Neelyo says:

      That’s what I came here to say. His crap is homophobic, misogynistic pablum. It is preachy and it’s so simplistic.

      And was his problem with the Writer’s Guild ever worked out? If I recall, he may have employed minority writers but he wasn’t paying them scale or something like that.

      • QQ says:

        Marry Me Neelyo, PABLUM is exactly it and my favorite word for all these cuddly ass articles in FB that populate my feed like; WHY ARE YA’LL FEEDING ME THIS PABLUM!!!

    • Naya says:

      Thank you. Thank you. Thank you QQ.

      Theres also a not very subtle colorism issue with this guy. Dark skinned dude= thug, cheat, abuser; Light skinned dude= womans salvation.

      That aside, what the hell is it with black men playing black female characters for laughs? Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, this guy, ALL the Wayans……Apparently all you need to play a middle aged black woman is a fat suit, a wig and a dress. Theres definitely a political statement being made here.

      • QQ says:

        ALSO THAT Naya, this man’s work has the subtlety of a Kardashole in a Bandage Dress, Someone coughs in the first act, THAT is your AIDS/Cancer victim in the third act

      • censored says:

        TP colorism cant be any worse than Spike Lee,
        Halle Berry, Rosario Dawson, Rosie Perez, Lonetta MgGhee and Trisha Campbell are actresses whose careers Spike helped launch , they are all brown paper bag passing biracial / light skin hispanic
        Maybe TP could be trying to go against the tired Black Hollywood trope of dark skin man /light skin woman pairings only by flipping it with darkskin woman/ light skin man , a few of his romantic leads have been darker woman i.e Kimbery Elise and Gabby Union
        Again not a fan but Like Meh Let him live

      • Jrzladee says:

        Flip Wilson started the dressing like a woman thing in comedy. I seem to recall an old interview in Jet magazine where this was discussed and it was said that one of the reasons why Flip started doing it was because it was hard finding a woman who would feel comfortable playing that part so it just became part of the skit to dress as a woman. Think about the women these men are portraying. Serena Williams has image issues and you think a woman would want to be put in the roles to be ridiculed? The woman who played Celie in The Color Purple is still traumatized from playing that role.

        As for the type of movies TP develops I’m afraid that I’m an apologist as well. Why does he have to be held to a higher standard than Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and the likes. Why can’t we all enjoy the silly. Truth be told the character of Madea is a doppelgänger of my Aunt (may God rest her soul). She was 6’2″, a chain smoker, a was all to ready to buss a cap in someone. She was also the one that everyone came to when they needed help.

        Different strokes for different folks…

    • Nev says:


      Nah on Perry.

    • Anna says:

      Yes QQ! a lot of his films are about weak women who need Jesus and a lightskin man to be “strong” and “worthy”. I’m glad he employs POC but like many other black women, I can’t stand him.

    • WTF says:

      QQ get outta my head!!!
      Tell it girl

  3. Sara says:

    I’m uncomfortable with the ideological contents of Tyler Perry’s movies. The strong religious element, the woman blaming for men’s mistakes etc. This being said, I’m glad he’s hiring minority (I hate that word BTW) talents behind the scenes as well as for his actors.

  4. Susan says:

    I can’t say his movies really resonate with me but I really respect him. Political correctness and over sensitivity have overtaken this country and it’s people like him that are changing the narrative.

    Also–did any one else just ADORE him in Gone Girl? He stole the show in every scene he was in!?

  5. FingerBinger says:

    I liked Tyler Perry in the beginning but Spike Lee is right. His characters have devolved into caricatures and stereotypes.

    • crtb says:

      And Spike Lee’s characters aren’t?? Pot calling the kettle black

      • FingerBinger says:

        Example? Lee’s representation of blacks has never been coonery. You mean the white characters? I’d challenge how you think any of those were stereotypes or caricatures.

  6. Renee28 says:

    Class isn’t the issue. The issue is that there are is no nuance or depth to what he does. If he told his stories in another manner the characters wouldn’t just be stereotypes.

  7. Tulip Garden says:

    Always avoided Avoided Perry due to what I had perceived to be his stupid movies. Actually saw one this past week. Wasn’t horrified. Saw some stuff I did like and saw some stuff I didn’t.

  8. me says:

    I think he’s very smart. I mean he has become very, very rich by putting out pretty crappy movies lol. I’m sorry but Spike Lee is correct.

  9. Squiggisbig says:

    In terms of the quality of the product produced:

    Tyler perry = the black Adam Sandler.

    • me says:

      You know whenever I have watched an Adam Sandler movie (on TV for free), I always wondered why anyone would put out such crap? That he gets paid so much money for doing shitty acting, shitty dialogue, shitty storyline. What the hell? He has his own production company, but still.

    • WTF says:

      He might even be a little worse.

  10. Algernon says:

    “As in, if Southern audiences enjoy Tyler Perry’s movies, the movies must be stupid, right?”

    The problem is his movies *are* stupid. It would be one thing if they were being dismissed because they played well in the South but were actually good, intelligent films, but they aren’t. They are dumb, lowest common denominator “comedies.” At least, the Madea stuff is. I don’t fault Tyler Perry for his work ethic, his commitment to his hometown (he makes his movies in Atlanta, employing local crews, which is very important), or to promoting minority talent in the movies. I think in a lot of ways, Tyler Perry is admirable. He’s a smart man, and he *is* talented, even if I don’t like how he applies his talent. You know who else that describes? Dan Whitney, aka Larry The Cable Guy. Madea is a stereotype in the same way Larry The Cable Guy is a stereotype, and they cater to the same lowest common denominator audience.

    The other portion of Perry’s work are preachy, wierdly misogynistic dramas in which women are always punished in some way or another for not adhering to a strict, religious view of behavior. There’s clearly an audience for that, but it’s not me, and the fact that Perry keeps making these movies means he probably really believes that stuff. I think he gives a good interview, but I have no desire to ever meet the man. Spike Lee, however, I would love to sit down with and pick his brain.

  11. The Eternal Side-Eye says:

    Whenever I want to criticize him I run into the issue of the fact that as far as I can see he’s one of the few black film makers consistently making product and all the reasons for that.

    Then I just feel frustrated.

    Tyler Perry isn’t perfect but he’s one black film maker in a system that tends to push them down and snuff them out if they don’t immediately and consistently make a bajillion dollars. If I chose one white director for ‘all’ the movies I’d probably be annoyed and sick of their schtick too, but I don’t have to…because there’s hundreds of them (excluding women).

    So therein is the crux. I liked what he said about Idris and Taraji. In a system that acts like these talented black actors just magically were discovered 2-3 years ago and haven’t been working for a decade plus or more at least one damn person gave them a job and a spotlight. So it’s hard to be mad at Tyler even when I’m not happy with his product, because others AREN’T giving these people spotlight and opportunities until they make money for a white production company and then it’s all shock and awe.

    • Sixer says:

      That’s intersectionality for you!

      I have only heard of this guy via this site and I’m not aware of him being known in the UK at all, so have absolutely no insight to make comments. But I find the comment section enlightening in terms of understanding how social issues play out differently stateside than they do here.

      I get the class argument Kaiser makes. And I get the refuting that commenters are doing. We have these class vs quality arguments here A LOT. But am I wrong in saying that religion and religious attitudes underlying his productions complicate the picture even more? Cos we don’t have that here.

      • QQ says:

        I agree Sixer with your last Bit the preachy tut tutting NEVER helps but also Exactly what Eternal said at the beginning of her post, It’s frustrating cause, Shoot at least he is doing something… But it’s just SOOOO bad

        For a try, by all means listen to kid fury losing his mind about TP towards the end of The Read, Here, both cause it’s HILARIOUS and True : https://soundcloud.com/theread/the-read-theres-something

      • Sixer says:

        Oh, thanks, QQ! Going to listen now. I’m here to learn!

        I read an interview with Clarke Peters the other day (he’s about to lead in a big ticket TV drama starting here this week; he does a lot of work here) and he was saying in the US it’s all about race and in the UK it’s all about class. A lot of people say that and it *is* broadly true. But it’s also over simplistic and I think perhaps the US discounts class too much and the UK pretends it’s not racist too much. Religion impacts differently and social identities seem to me to be felt quite differently too. I can see this Perry guy and his work incite a lot of strong feelings hereabouts and I’m just trying to um… get it, you know?

  12. Greenieweenie says:

    I’ve watched Medea movies. His movies represent a culture. It isn’t every black American’s culture, but it is part of black (and white) American culture. That strong churchy influence–like that’s news? When does the audience have to buy into everything the filmmaker might be selling? I think Kaiser hit it on the money. People are just uncomfortable about seeing aspects of their own culture (and I really mean American culture) amplified. His movies have poverty/The South written all over them, but he doesn’t apologize for it and the movies are successful and people can’t deal. Count me in on the apologism, I guess.

    ETA: I have not watched his movies in rapt attention or noticed trends in his work although I maybe noticed that colorism claim upthread. I just don’t think he’s awful.

  13. Wren33 says:

    Where I have sympathy for Tyler Perry is over the fact that he gets over-judged and over-analyzed. He puts out pretty crappy comedies, but so do lots of white directors. Crappy white movies with white actors get criticized too, but there is not the same level of attention because no one thinks they do, or are supposed to, represent all white people.

    • censored says:

      This is all I was trying to say but keep getting blocked, We are sensible enough to know that Adam Sandler isn’t representative of all of White America and Sandler keeps churning out crappy movies why cant TP ?

  14. mp says:

    OK (ducks behind pillow) The Why Did I Get Married movies weren’t all bad. I’m glad he made those movies, can’t say much for the Madea movies because I haven’t seen them, but I’m glad he’s around to show a diversity of experiences with a more diverse set of people.

  15. Sichuan says:

    I adore him. I’ve been a big fan for many years, way back when he was doing his shows on the stage – way before the movies. I really like him as a person and while I don’t love all his movies, I always love to see him succeed. This man is also wildly generous. He built/funded an entire NEIGHBORHOOD from the ground up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

    P.S. This is SOCHAN. Darn autocorrect changed by handle to “sichuan”.