Tyler Perry was overcome by emotion over a remark made by The View cohost Sara Haines yesterday. During a stop on the talk show to promote his new documentary, Maxine’s Baby: The Tyler Perry Story, Sara expressed that she was introduced to his mother through watching, and you can tell how validating her remark was for him.
It’s clear that he set out to highlight Maxine’s legacy and that’s exactly what he did with his documentary, in Sara’s eyes at least. And though his vulnerability is much-needed and certainly valid, it’s difficult to separate this Tyler from the Tyler that often finds himself in hot water with Black women.
There are a few things behind the growing frustration with Tyler Perry. First, it's that his productions offer very one-dimensional representations of Black women, when we know we’re not a monolith. Second, the odds of him making remarks like this and portraying white women the way he does Black women are slim to none. But lastly, and most importantly, he speaks for us, when we’re totally capable of speaking for ourselves.
With all the recent talk about women stepping into their “soft girl era”, I can assure you no group is leaning into this more than Black women. The reason the idea of a soft life hits so hard for us is because a lot of us grew up seeing struggle all around us. Whether it’s men or money or our careers, the same issues we face are the same ones that plagued our mothers and our aunts. A lot of Black women spend our days dealing with microaggressions as we move through the world. We encounter racism on social media and dating apps, if we’re not being fetishized for our ethnicity, that is. So Black women, now more than ever, are really becoming intentional about doing away with these experiences and replacing them instead by filling their lives with luxury, wealth, enrichment and softness in all aspects – love, career and friendships. But when Tyler Perry continues to put out productions that represent Black women as the antithesis of what we want to be and how we want to be seen, it feels like a sense of erasure.
His views on women are very evident in his films and productions. For most of his Black female characters, it seems they always have to endure some sort of strife in order to find love. They’re either single moms or struggling financially and can’t make ends meet or they’re in horrible relationships with awful men. In Diary of a Mad Black Woman, we saw the protagonist in an abusive relationship, while her sister, a single mother, ended up dating and marrying a bus driver. He has very sly ways of telling us that we can only have one or the other – not both, and it’s a message we’re tired of hearing because it makes us feel like we’re asking for too much.
Most recently, he came under fire for suggesting that successful Black women be more open-minded about splitting bills with our partners. During an appearance on the Keep It Positive, Sweetie podcast, Tyler made the following remark:
“In our society right now, Black women are making a lot more money, for the most part, than Black men,” he said. “If you can find love, if that man works at whatever job and is a good man, and is good to you, and honors you, and honors the house, and honors his wife, and does what he can… because his gift might not be your gift, that is okay. That’s not somebody that’s beneath you. That’s somebody who came to love you at your worth.”
People on social media were quick to share their thoughts, with some saying that men who can’t afford to steadily pay bills or contribute equally to the household are perhaps not ready to be in a serious relationship. But the main sentiment, expressed mostly by the women he was speaking about, was that rather than encourage women to lower their standards or settle for someone who can’t make equal contributions, he should encourage men to do better, make more money and land better education and better jobs.
The thing is – Tyler’s got a voice. He’s got some serious pull. He’s a media mogul worth a billion dollars, let’s be real here. So when he uses that voice, in this instance on the podcast, to encourage Black women to settle, it really does send a message to men that we don’t need any more than what they’re giving us. But we do. And we deserve it.
I’m pretty sure the topic of women lowering their standards was born out of a widely debated discussion that featured former Real Housewives of New York star Eboni Williams saying that as a successful attorney, she wouldn’t date a man that drove a bus. And that conversation came just days before Gabrielle Union revealed that despite a massive gap in salary and net worth between her and Dwyane Wade, everything in their home is split down the middle.
My question is – why is this such a huge topic of conversation for the Black community when it’s hardly ever talked about in other demographics? Why do we have such an intimate knowledge about how money is handled in the Wade and Union household? Why do we know whether Eboni Williams would ever date a bus driver, when that’s not a question I could ever see someone asking Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, or Kelly Clarkson?
A few years ago, when Tyler revealed that he doesn’t have a writer’s room and does all of the writing himself, it garnered a mixed reaction. Some people admired what he called “work ethic”, but others questioned why he wasn’t giving up and coming writers in Atlanta opportunities.
It’s a fair question – particularly after also being questioned about his position on the strike as he promoted his documentary yesterday. He found himself in hot water again after critiquing SAG-AFTRA, saying the guild should be able to recognize when they’ve won.
“In two years, two-and-a-half years, we’ll be renegotiating again,” he said. “So we have to know what have we won, and what have we won for now? That’s the thing. For now…If I had ran my business trying to get everything at once, I wouldn’t be here. I’ve got as much as I can for now, so let’s see what we can do next.”
Again, he’s speaking for a group that he doesn’t belong to and he’s othering a lot of people’s experiences based on…his. This isn’t about Tyler, it’s not about his business, and it’s not about what he would do with that business. This is about a strike for people to make livable wages.
It doesn’t help his case, particularly as it pertains to his stance on unions, that around the time he was preparing to launch his hit spinoff, Meet the Browns, that he fired four writers who were requesting union contracts. The Writers Guild of America intervened, charging his production company with unfair labor practice and bargaining in bad faith.
"I feel like I was slapped in the face, like we were used," one writer named Teri Brown-Jackson told Deadline at the time. "We were good enough to create over a hundred episodes, but now when it comes to reaping the benefits of the show being syndicated and having other spin-offs from it, he decides to let us go unless we accept a horrible offer."
"While I'd like to see something positive come out of this for us, if this fight helps future Black writers get what they deserve, that's a good thing," head writer for House of Payne Kellie Griffin told the outlet.
Several years later, two unions actually banned actors from working with him over the refusal of his production company to sign a union contract. With all that in mind, it’s no wonder his solution to the problem was to axe the writer’s room completely.
Over the years, he’s taken harsh criticism, including from the legendary Spike Lee, who called his films “humiliating, racially stereotyping coonery and buffoonery”. And back in 2009, NPR published an open letter written by journalist and culture critic Jamilah Lemieux, who expressed her frustration over the overused tropes that made Tyler’s productions difficult to watch and stomach for the very people he was depicting, saying:
“My feelings about your work are conflicted. The images of Black people we see in your movies and two TV shows, Meet The Browns and House Of Payne, are not always fair. Now, you are the only person who seems to be able to get Black shows on TV. But both your shows are marked by old stereotypes of buffoonish, emasculated Black men and crass, sassy Black women.”
She went on to say:
“Your most famous character, Madea, is a trash-talking, pistol-waving grandmother played by none other than you. Through her, the country has laughed at one of the most important members of the Black community: Mother Dear, the beloved matriarch. I just can't quite get with seeing Mother Dear played by a 6-foot-3 man with prosthetic breasts flopping in the wind. Our mothers and grandmothers deserve much more than that. Heck, our fathers and grandfathers deserve more.”
Jamilah’s sentiments, even though they’re more than a decade old, highlight two things. The first is the need for him to re-establish a writer’s room. Despite his claims that the audience wants to hear his voice and what he’s saying, that obviously can’t be the case considering the years-long trail of disappointment in his representation and treatment of Black people, particularly his Black writers like Teri and Kellie. But the second thing that her sentiments highlight is the irony of him being reduced to tears over how much he values his mother’s legacy, which contradict his depictions of the Black matriarch in any given family.
Hopefully, the release of his documentary will help him recognize the value in re-establishing a writer’s room. He needs to see that he doesn’t have to be the one to shoulder all of the weight that comes with representing Black people on TV and encompassing all of the ways we exist. But more importantly, I’m hoping the release of his documentary and Sara’s remark will have him reconsider how he portrays one of the most vital figures in the Black community – yes, the matriarch. But also, the Black woman in general.