Single Sisters Speak Out

The Modern Life of the Single Sister

Guest Post: An Open Letter To Tyler Perry September 2, 2009

Filed under: Single Sisters On... — peyso @ 10:30 pm

EDITORS NOTE: Please tune in next week. As per our discussion last week, I will be discussing how to love a black man in a modern day society from a black man’s perspective. Also, I am again asking for the ladies to write me. Let me know what you need answered.

 

Last week, my post (which had to have been a record for comments on a post on this blog) was inspired by a very intelligent woman with who I share a real life friend with. A lot of people defended my honor went in on her blog and gave their opinions of her and her ideas. That doesn’t bother me. I feel that I would not be doing her or you all justice if I didn’t also show you some of her writings that I personally agree with. Some of you may have already read this one but whatever, so without further ado…. Sister Toldja:

 

Dear Mr. Perry,

I appreciate your commitment to giving Black folks jobs in front of and behind the camera, having opened the largest Black owned film production studio in the country in Atlanta last year. You own the rights to all of your films, which is not something most filmmakers can say. Your love and concern for Black people is undeniable, as proved yet again when you sent a group of Philly children and their families to Disneyland after they had been the victims of racism at a local community pool. You have also introduced generations of young viewers to some of our most treasured and important artists such as Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee and Cicely Tyson, who have all appeared in your films. And while they are often infused with over-the-top humor, your films contain positive messages about self-worth, love and respect.

However, my feelings about your work are somewhat complicated, as is the case for a lot of my fellow Black artists/intellectuals. Much of what we see in your films, particularly the Medea series and your two TV shows ‘Meet The Browns’ and ‘House Of Payne’, is in step with decades old stereotypes of bumbling, emasculated Black male buffoons and crass, sassy Black women. To be completely honest, my circles of friends (many of whom enjoy your film work) find the TBS shows to be wholly unwatchable. As Spike Lee said recently “As African-Americans, we’re not one monolithic group”, thus there is no problem with having diverse images of us on the screen, “But at the same time, for me, the imaging is troubling and it hearkens back to ‘Amos ‘n Andy’.”

As much as I would like to support your series, especially given the complete dearth of Black shows on television, I simply cannot. In fact, it is the lack of other Black programming that makes the problems with ‘Meet the Browns’ and ‘House of Payne’ so glaring and painful. While both network television and cable have been cruel to Blacks over the past few years, least we not forget that we have a long list of critically acclaimed Black television shows in our past that did not toe the line between comedy and coonery. Among them: ‘The Jeffersons’, ‘227’, ‘Amen’, ‘The Cosby Show’, ‘A Different World’, ‘Roc’, ‘Living Single’, ‘The Bernie Mac Show’ (the only thing resembling a direct descendant to ‘The Cosby Show’s’ family sitcom legacy thus far), etc. There is no reason to believe that Black audiences are less sophisticated in 2009 than they were in 1989 and that we would not be receptive to a show that resembled one of the ones that I mentioned. While I am tempted to watch your shows because they are pretty much the only Black ones on television, I don’t want to send the message to networks and advertisers that I as a Black consumer find those images to be acceptable.

By not submitting your films for pre-release review by critics, you have sent a strong message to the White guardians of Hollywood that you do not require their approval to have a hit film and that is admirable. You notably attacked a negative review by Roger Ebert of ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’, stating that he did not understand the film because it wasn’t for him. I agree that cultural ownership of our stories is important and that what we experience as a people cannot always be appreciated or understood by others. However, I and many other Black viewers have expressed some of the very same attitudes about your work that Ebert and other White critics articulated. You’ll have a very poignant story going and then here is this jarring, over-the-top Medea character in the middle of it all. It’s akin to giving a child candy in order to make them take their vitamins and I find it to be a bit insulting.

In most of your films, you are a lead actor, the screenwriter, director and executive producer. While you are obviously a man of many talents, know that hubris is the downfall of many a great man. Given that there are so few opportunities for Black artists in Hollywood, you would best use your power for the greater good of our people by removing some of the many hats that you wear and distributing them amongst your artistic peers. One of the biggest, and oft-ignored, criticisms of your work has been the writing. You are obviously capable of creating these very engaging and unique stories and in the hands of a masterful writer, one of your films could silence all the critics and naysayers.

As far as the Medea character goes, I won’t say much as you have again recently expressed your desire to stop portraying her. I’d be lying if the gun-toting, pot smoking granny never gave me a chuckle and the character certainly has a lot of heart and something very earnest about her. However, I can’t help but to feel that through her, the country has had the opportunity to laugh at one of the most important members of the Black community: the “Big Mama”, the beloved grandmother. And while our grannies are often these boisterous, over-the-top figures, I just can’t quite get with seeing Big Mama completely desexualized and played by a 6’3 man with prosthetic breasts flopping in the wind. Our grandmothers deserve much more than that.

At this point, you have created an empire on the foundation of love, Christianity and concern, but also stereotype and Black pathologies. Mr. Perry, you are in a position now where if you be so willing, you could completely revolutionize the world of Black film. I appreciate the step that you and your friend Oprah have taken in helping to fund the soon-to-be released Lee Daniels film ‘Precious’ and I hope that you continue to support the work of other Black directors. Please bring both fledgling and seasoned Black writers and directors to your studios and use the many tools that you have worked so hard for so that the next young artist doesn’t have struggle as you did to get his voice heard. There is so much talent within our ranks and you are one of the few folks in a position to get that talent in people’s homes.

I beg of you, Mr. Perry- stop dismissing the critics as haters and realize that Black people are in great need of new and honest images of us in the media. We have had men in dresses who weren’t actual drag performers and we’ve had bumbling buffoons and loud, aggressive mammies. I know you have more, because we are more and YOU are more. It is obvious that your people will be loyal to you and support you no matter what. So do right by us. I think you love us enough to do just that.

Sincerely,
Sister Toldja

 

Be sure to check her out at http://thebeautifulstruggler.blogspot.com/

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16 Responses to “Guest Post: An Open Letter To Tyler Perry”

  1. Danielle Says:

    This post was right on point. Honestly, I wanted to find something to argue against…but I couldn’t. I think it’s an honest assessment and the requests aren’t extreme or beyond his control. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Bamer15 Says:

    Thanks for sharing that. 🙂

    I found it a good read and enlightening seeing as I don’t know that much about Mr. Perry. However I did find it hard to agree with the statement of “white hollywood angels” (the critics) that watch over the movie industry.

  3. Very good post….. I’m not a fan of Madea’s….

  4. thecomebackgirl Says:

    I think it must be pretty exhaustive to be a black person in mainstream media who can NEVER do enough. I get tired of reading stuff like this.

    Madea in my estimation is a creative smoke and hoodini trick. He had to appeal to the “masses” to get on..sadly i see very little of us going to black art house films. And i take the critique as more back seat commentary.

    You want better film. Make them. Support them. don’t just blog about it. BE …..about it. Show up to the film festivals that feature black film THAT MAY ONLY pack 35-40 people in one viewing.

    Make something better.

    (loose work cite-diddy)

  5. thecomebackgirl Says:

    pretty exhaustive..

    and exhausting LOL..im off to see prof. higgins.

  6. Cheekie Says:

    “I think it must be pretty exhaustive to be a black person in mainstream media who can NEVER do enough. I get tired of reading stuff like this.”

    I feel ya, ComebackGirl, I really do. I think there ARE people that are never happy with us and will have something to complain about.

    However, I don’t believe the above is a representation of that. Thing is, we HAVE to hold us higher. We can’t accept mediocre. Justifying mediocrity by saying, “At least he’s making money” is unacceptable. Sister Toldja DID acknowledge that he has the biggest Black-ran production company and commended him for it. But the bottom line is, at what cost? Even though he employs his own, he’s still sending out the same representation of Black folks that White folks have done for years. I mean, if you’re gonna go on your own and show that Black folks can be “more”, then don’t go on your own and produce the same type of stuff that we accuse “The Man” of doing to us for years.

    I don’t like to bring folks down, I don’t. But, if we don’t expect more from ourselves, then who will? The criticism is not out of hate, it’s just the opposite. It’s all love. If no one CARED what Tyler Perry did, well, then that would be a problem.

    Also, it’s easy to tell people to “be” the solution, but not everyone is a filmmaker. I mean, not every criticizer has to fix the problem they criticize themselves, otherwise every movie critic would also be a filmmaker, and we know that’s not true. Personally, I AM interested in the film industry as a career and have written a couple screenplays and I’m a STRONG supporter of making diverse and 3D characters for my people. Hopefully, I will be able to be one of the ones to make that change… 🙂

  7. thecomebackgirl Says:

    “we HAVE to hold us higher. We can’t accept mediocre. Justifying mediocrity by saying, “At least he’s making money” is unacceptable.”

    @ Cheekie..i appreciate your retort. And I’m so tired of talking and writing about the Madea-fi-cation of black film that I’m bored. I actually did a semester at Columbia Film school a several years ago. And you are correct. Everyone ISN’T a filmaker, though there are so many other facets in that collaborative art, that all the black people who have the same old tired arguments- should be involved somewhere in the process.

    Hel! we could start with attending a black art film. Can you name the last film festival you went to? How about the last black art film that explored various compelling themes in the black community. Like putting your money where your mouth is. (“Your” I’m using in VERY broad terms. So not JUST you but everyone who shares a similar sentiment.

    To me its not JUST about the money, but how do you think films are made? I think there are other ways to look at what Perry is doing. He “got on” by appealing to mainstream black tastes and aesthetic. However as you’ve notice (or at least i ha) his films are becoming smarter, more complex in thematic structure, and appealing to different types of black folk.

    As an artist you are suppose to evolve. Sometimes you gotta sell out…to sell back in.

    All im saying there are other ways to look at this besides the random and overused..”fight the power-esque” of black mainstream media.

    And yeah the arm chair theorizing is equally played. Anybody can go on and on and in the same way about whats wrong with black film and television, but what about how we can change it? what about strategies mainstream people are using that are really covert if you know enough about the medium.

  8. peyso Says:

    In defense of Sis Toldja, she is definitely a patron of black film and has done more than her fair share to support quality black films and other cool things that I dont remember right now

  9. Cheekie Says:

    “As an artist you are suppose to evolve. Sometimes you gotta sell out…to sell back in.”

    Ya know, this is so true. Especially Black folks. We all have to play the game in order to survive in it. And sometimes, it does mean putting aside things that’ll hinder you from being an active player. A perfect example is our now President, Barack Obama. He definitely had to play the game with a lot of aspects, especially racial concerns.

    And yeah, I have noticed Perry is growing and evolving. I don’t think anyone saw “The Family that Preys” coming from him. He has even said that he plans to put the Madea costume to rest. So, I’m sure he has bigger and better things planned now that he’s established himself.

    After reading far harsher vitriol for Mr. Perry and what he represents in Black culture, I thought Toldja’s blog post was more thoughtful than cruel.

  10. thecomebackgirl Says:

    @ Cheekie I can appreciate that too..i guess..im on some sort of “fight the power fatigue” and i write a lot in “black vernacular” I had someone once ask me why “characters spoke so relaxed and with slag”. And I was an educated black and should try harder

    Well its how I speak. And often how i write too. and writing in any other experience would seem less authentic.

    I guess what Im trying to say is why rely on two black people to shape black images in any artistic medium. My tastes span a HUGE spectrum. There are at least 12 black directors today how I can name and appreciate. a half dozen are so are what I would describe as intellectual artists..the meat and potatoes of film. Early Perry film could be described as a tasty hamburger.

    Im sorry I don’t eat cheese burgers everyday, and I;m not going to go into Wendy’s and tell them to come up with a spinach version. I appreciate all food for what it has to offer me. And have never relied on one for my full sustenance.

  11. thecomebackgirl Says:

    (REWRITING…i type too fast and too much going on)

    @ Cheekie I can appreciate that too..i guess..im on some sort of “fight the power fatigue” and i write a lot in “black vernacular” I had someone once ask me why my “characters spoke so relaxed and with slag”. And I was an educated black and should try harder.

    Well its how I speak. And often how i write too. and writing in any other experience would seem less authentic.

    I guess what Im trying to say is why rely on two black people to shape black images in any artistic medium. My tastes span a HUGE spectrum. There are at least 12 black directors today who I can name and appreciate. a half dozen are so are what I would describe as intellectual artists..the meat and potatoes of film. Early Perry film could be described as a tasty cheese hamburger.

    Im sorry I don’t eat cheese burgers everyday, and I;m not going to go into Wendy’s and tell them to come up with a spinach version. I appreciate all food for what it has to offer me. And have never relied on one TYPE for my full sustenance.

  12. Lovely Paradox Says:

    In defense of Sis Toldja, she is definitely a patron of black film and has done more than her fair share to support quality black films and other cool things that I dont remember right now

    I agree with that. It’ll probably be difficult to evaluate such a letter without knowing the blogger. Then again, it can be valued for its content rather than the person who blogged. But that’s just my opinion.

    I totally agree with Sister Toldja. I tried to watch Meet the Browns and House of Payne last night to understand what the mindset behind it is/could be… but I am still drawing a blank. What is Tyler Perry trying to accomplish? What is he trying to say? I totally do not get and/or understand the appeal of the shows (much like I don’t get and/or understand the appeal of RHOA but I digress).

    To “excuse” mediocrity just because “at least somebody is trying” is a mistake in my opinion. Greatness comes from greatness. A bunch of mediocrity will not solve the problem of blatant racism in Hollywood. I watched “All of Us” by Christine Swanson a couple of weeks ago. And the story said it all. Hollywood will only co-sign productions on those uber-ridiculous, over-the-top comedies (dramedies if you ask me because they are really tragic) and not give voice to any of the “real stories” under the guise that Black People don’t want that. What Tyler Perry does is adding fuel to a fire that has been burning for way too long.

    “Precious” is a movie that I will support, so is “Good Hair”. Because they have the potential to be great pieces of cinematography (moreso Precious than Good Hair).

    Ultimately, all Sister Toldja is saying is that Tyler Perry can keep making coonstatic movies if he wants because obviously there is an audience for that (sadly) BUT he is in a position to hire TALENTED writers and make EXCELLENT movies… We just hope he uses his powers for good.

    THanks for posting Peyso.

  13. When you look at black film history, from vaudeville to blaxploitation, there was always sentiment that inspired and encouraged greater diversity in imagery and theme. So these arguments arent new in black film.

    What fascinates me is the exploration of what comes first the cinematic chicken or the egg. Does taste dictate film or does film dictate taste. Its the constant tango that one often has with the other and i find that exciting.

    What disappoints me though are when people want to tell me or a race of others what’s palatable and worth watching. I’ve said this before, Tyler Perry may be no Orsen Wells. And Madea’s (fill in the blank) aint Citizen Kane, but its entertaining. I can appreciate it all.

    I don’t CONSTANTLY have to be informed of the state of black america or get a dose of what the majority defines as “acceptable themes”, to be entertained.

    After a hard day at work..i have been known to flip a channel and land on a gun totting cross dressing man..and its hella funny. Does it inspire me to read Noam Chomsky, probably not.

    And in 100 years, it will be art. People will talk about it the way they did some of Andy Warhol’s work. He did a series of pieces a long time ago where he pee’d on an acidic canvas, people were revolted, shocked, annoyed, disgusted…but it goes for six figures at Sotheby’s. its the ebb and flow and the push and pull of taste. All of it being extremely relative.

    the chicken or the egg.rinse.wash.repeat.

    btw..there are SOME incredible earth moving black film makers out here..Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Robert Townsend, Bill Duke, Fred Williamson, Melvin Van Peebles, Julie Dash.ETC ETC ETC.the list is long. Look them up. They;re all alive.

  14. enyfilms Says:

    First of all this is my subject (btw this is Temps)hence my new name. For one ALL art can be knocked if the artist or their supporters don’t like the knocks quit. Yes TP stuff aint deep but neither was Comin to America but it was funny and not a coon flick. I just said the same thing on sbm about todays rap. Some went with the after a hard days work I don’t want a message. Well I compard soulja boy to Biz Markie, odb, and digital underground. They all made good music that happen to be comedic party rap. But it was good, souljha boy is trash. Some would say the same about TP’s stuff. Also Hollywood Shuffle had a DEEP message but I bet most of us think its one hell of a comedy. So I can’t ride with “its entertaining” so is dog fighting or watchin two women fight for a man. The thing about humor ppl miss is its always deep. Check the topics a comdian talks of, (esp if black) sex, the law, peculiar social behavior. The reason we like it is we know there’s a joke in there (with the Truth) and that’s what makes us watch comedies. As for supportin the system. Well if you in NYC on the 11th my man Ephraim Bentons film Inside a Change will be screening again(if you really wanna go email me) it won best film @ HBO Latino film fest. For me, I am puttin together sum thangs to shoot for the fall its about a young man comin of age and not givin in to what ur “suppose to do”. I am on board to produce it I didn’t write it. The writer a black man expressed not wantin the character to get mushy in the end. He and I feel too many films spin characters to make us feel good, we aint tryna do them types of films. So we try to control as much as we can. My cam n Mac cost 10k give or take a g, you can also work other deals out with the other “keys” on set. I have worked for free or lil pay on a dozen or so films. The key once done is support from the ppl. In that I say if you know any local film cats offer whatever help you can. And cheekie if you n the game we need to build, you got anything that’s shootable maybe we can put summin together. My email is enyfilms@gmail.com

  15. Cheekie Says:

    This was a great discussion…I really enjoyed the comments. Temps (enyfilms), Imma shoot you an email. Thanks!

  16. Eightys Baby Says:

    One of the biggest, and oft-ignored, criticisms of your work has been the writing. You are obviously capable of creating these very engaging and unique stories and in the hands of a masterful writer, one of your films could silence all the critics and naysayers.

    I know I am late for this post…….But I don’t agree with a lot of this letter… Especially the part that I posted above. It’s like she saying that his writing is not good enough. He’s obviously been successful with his writing thus far. So why should he find a “masterful writer” to silence all critics and naysayers?? It’s obvious that he doesn’t care what they think. He’s never gonna be able to please everybody. Regardless of what he do it’s always gonna be somebody with something to say. It also seems as if the writer was saying that her problem with Madea was that it was being played by a man. So would it not have been an issue if this role was being played by a woman????

    If you don’t like Tyler Perry’s stuff then just don’t watch it. It’s as simple as that. What about Wanda or Sha Nay Nay? I didn’t see anybody writing no letter to Jamie Foxx or Martin. Was it okay for them to dress up as women????? It was funny when they did it but all of a sudden it’s a huge don’t do it when Tyler Perry does it?????


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