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Ernest Owens Headshot

Tyler Perry, Stop Vilifying Black Success

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Dear Tyler Perry,

It has been 13 films and eight years of perpetual stereotype. Through the years, I have found myself supporting your movies because you are one of the few consistent black filmmakers in Hollywood. Your films have grossed over $500 million in the box office worldwide and continue to launch television spin-offs and other media based endeavors. Even though Spike Lee, an even better director in my opinion, has critiqued you with good reason, I still had faith that you were adjusting to the business and would progress in your talent.

As I continue to view your work however, I have noticed that you have gotten better actors filling crappier roles for even more godforsaken screenplays. The movies continue to go below the belt and your attention to detail is becoming more minimal. Even your dramatic scenes that are meant to provoke us are being dismissed as farce. What is even more alarming is that as I used to watch your movies as a child and as I am now paying to see them as an adult, the life I strive to live continues to be mocked as a reality doomed for evil and self-destruction. So given your own rags to riches tale of faith and prosperity Mr. Perry, why must you continue to objectify and vilify blacks that strive for success in your films?

In your recent disappointment in cinema, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, your leading actress (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell) get infected with HIV and loses her marriage based on her ambition to overall pursue a better career as a marriage counselor. Given that she is unhappy in her current marriage with an aloof, underachieving husband (that rather her cook dinner every day for him and go to church more to become "a better wife") Smollett-Bell's character is less understood given that she instead pursues a man that matches more of her professional, sexual and intellectual desires. If anything, the unfortunate moral of the story is: the more you aim high, the less happy you are.

Such a pathetic motif continued in your other movies, where in Madea's Family Reunion, successful black actors such as Blair Underwood is a controlling and abusive black attorney who loses his fiancée. Gabrielle Union in Daddy's Little Girls is a snobby uptight Ivy League alum turned attorney who "humbles" herself for a mechanic with previous children. Sanaa Lathan in The Family That Preys plays an educated accountant that is a doomed cheater that is scarred by a white man. Robbie Jones in Temptation is a successful black social media tycoon with HIV that is a womanizer who cheats, beats, stalks, controls and infects the many women around him. And the list goes on...

As for the many falsehoods and fallacies that play out in your movies, the biggest stereotype might just be that with black success come negative atrocities. If it means anything, your films continue to place blacks who aspire to do more be hesitant to achieve such for preconceived consequences will follow.

And what is even worse, is that your films create such a very unrealistic outlook. How many men such as Idris Elba in Daddy's Little Girls who plays a strong hardworking mechanic that takes care of his three daughters are really out there? For most of your films, the women who have fallen from their success in life have two options: either live a more humble life with an underachieving mate or live a lonely one scarred with either disease or unhappiness. In The Family That Preys, Sanaa Lathan was left with nothing while her husband eventually has his own business right after her. In Diary of A Mad Black Woman, Kimberly Elise decides to leave her attorney husband (who was also is, guess it: abusive and controlling) for a nice urban factory worker in her small town.

What disappoints me the most about your films Mr. Perry is that they do not positively reflect the various audiences of blacks that you have aspired to attract. You know, the ones that actually buy the movie tickets to support you. As a man who grew up in an urban environment that is now attending college at a fine Ivy League institution (University of Pennsylvania), I would like to let you know that I am not aspiring to become the controlling, manipulative and reckless psychopath that you continue to depict such men of color in your films. And the hardworking black women who have earned their degrees that stand beside me in these schools do not have to go so far down to their small towns to find a good man... they are also right here as well. And furthermore, as you find solace in trying to unrealistically characterize the street behavior of such men in your movies, you are doing all of us a disservice.

Why does this all matter? Because for all my life, I have yet to really see consistent movies with educated black couples in a real relationship. I know they exist because I see them in my own families and those of my friends. I am aware of broken homes as well, but that is not the entire narrative. As we see more intelligent women become, for better or worse, Olivia Popes... where are the Clair Huxtables? No one is asking for a cheesy plot, but why is it that we can expect to see such happiness from our white counterparts but not in ourselves?

Tyler, I have given up on you. You have created a ratchet film formula that has become as one critic called it, "malt liquor for the masses." You are not going to change; you have made millions off of the exploitation of your own people. And what is even more sad is that perhaps you are the very evil and illusion that becomes your very own stereotypes of black success. A level of selling out and lack of social responsibility that is as reckless as Robbie Jones in Temptation or as mindless and arrogant as Sanaa Lathan in The Family That Preys. But perhaps, this open letter is for the next aspiring black filmmaker of my generation who aspires to fix that.

I know once you read this, you will most likely tell me to "go to hell" just like you told a more talented and thought-provoking director named Spike Lee... but I would suggest that perhaps your buffoonery of motion pictures will go there as well.

Sincerely,

A Successful Young Black Man that will never again buy a ticket to your movie (I won't even watch it bootlegged)

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Idris Elba's name.

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