5 Signs You’re Watching A Tyler Perry Movie

82nd Academy Awards, Tyler Perry - army mil-66455-2010-03-09-180359 (cropped).jpgTyler Perry is an auteur in the worst way. Even if he didn’t slap his name across all of his projects, it would take you all of ten seconds of movie watching to know you were viewing a Perry original. Tyler Perry, despite the fluctuating quality of his work, is an accomplished actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and author. In 2011, Forbes named him the highest paid man in entertainment, having made $130 million dollars between 2010 and 2011, and if all that weren’t enough, Perry has also helmed four TV series and fifteen movies from 2005 to present day. No matter your opinion about him, there is one thing that is not up for dispute: the man is a success. Hoping to add to his windfall, this Friday Tyler Perry’s new film The Single Moms Club debuts. In honor (for lack of a better word) of the new movie, here’s a list of five signs it’s a Tyler Perry film.


5. Contrived/Repetitive Plotlines and Characters: In Diary of A Mad Black Woman a scorned black woman gets angry, gets even, then finds peace and new love. In I Can Do Bad All By Myself an angry black woman finds herself, finds faith, and opens her heart to new love. In Why Did I Get Married? four angry women work on difficulties with their husbands and are able to re-open themselves up to love; I’m starting to think there’s a theme at work here. Black men and women are treated almost equally poorly in Tyler Perry’s films. The women are either caring and wise and spiritual to a fault, or they’re selfish, self-sabotaging sin-machines that are ripe for a change of heart. Though most of his protagonists are women, don’t mistake Perry for a feminist, as the answer to the heroine’s deepest question about who she is as a person is almost always a new man, the missing piece to her life’s puzzle.

The black men are either wealthy or working class, and often pitted against one another as if the two are separate species that cannot coexist in the same world. The working class man is usually the hero, he’s done some time but is a good guy underneath who society has misjudged, and he waits around for our female protagonist to realize this (See Diary of A Mad Black Woman and Daddy’s Little Girls); he works only to save her from the villainous rich man she is initially with  and his cruel world of excess and lies. The movies’ plots don’t fare any better. It’s clear that Tyler Perry has penchant for over-the-top, soapy drama as opposed to exhibiting tragedy in a more grounded way. That’s not to say that the big, life-changing events his characters face aren’t realistic problems that actual people have to deal with, but when every issue is big and earth-shattering, it makes it difficult to connect with already hollow characters. It seems that Tyler Perry makes two types of movies: movies with Madea, his boisterous, violent-granny alter ego, and movies without her. Both categories feature all the same paint-by-numbers storylines and tropes, as if his only drive for making movies is seeing his name at the top of a poster.

4. Use of Black Actors: Tyler Perry isn’t a monster, and I don’t want to paint him to be one. Although the characters that inhabit his film universe almost slide off the screen from being so two-dimensional, he does fill the cast with mainly black actors. Acting is a difficult biz for anyone to break into, and cut those odds in half if you happen to be black, especially if you’re a black woman. Tyler Perry stacks his deck with a rotation of great actresses: Thandie Newton, Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Angela Bassett, and Cicely Tyson, to name a few. It’s hard to scold the man for providing talented performers with work and helping them stay relevant, especially when other opportunities are so few and far between. Kimberly Elise’s performance as Helen in Diary of A Mad Black Woman is pretty fantastic given the material she had to work with, the same can be said of Henson in  I Can Do Bad All By Myself. That being said…

3. Negative Black Stereotypes: It’s difficult to see someone as seemingly earnest as Tyler Perry and to believe that he is forwarding the black cause and creating meaningful examples of the black experience when his work clearly says differently. I’ve already addressed the formulaic nature of his films, but some of it bears repeating. It’s hard to tell who comes off as worse in these movies, the men or the women. The caricature of the “sassy black woman” and the “angry black woman” are both alive and well in Perry’s work, and he is unapologetic about these broad, offensive portrayals. It’s almost as if during the movie he is winking at the audience saying, we all know one, am I right? In 2014, black women shouldn’t still have to prove that they’re not all loudmouthed, neck-rolling, finger wagging shrews, nor should black men have to settle for being either the jesters or the villains in their own story.  If they’re not cackling clowns, shucking and jiving like in Meet The Browns, then they are businessmen whose wealth has made them into abusive, sadistic figures, as seen in Diary of A Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion. There is something unfortunately expected about seeing a stereotypical black character in a white movie, because despite hundreds of years of interaction it’s still difficult for a black character to be portrayed as a person, rather than a cartoon. So seeing this same sort of ignorance in the work of a successful black man making his fortune off of the people he is exploiting onscreen is more than a bit cringe-worthy.

2. Character’s You Care About: This review of Tyler Perry’s style of filmmaking has been less than complementary, but his movies, however bad, are never all bad. There is heart and warmth that exists within his work if you know where to look. For example, the tender and heartfelt speech Cicely Tyson gives on the nature of family and family reunions in Madea’s Family Reunion. After seeing teenagers on their phones, family members gambling, and various other forms of disregard, she decides it’s time for a talk about how the family came to own the property they’re standing on and why the sacred institution of the family reunion deserves more respect. It’s an obvious emotional moment, but it feels organic. The speech is preachy, but not overly so, and the gentle waver in Tyson’s voice as she speaks is the closest a flick like this can get to any feelings of emotional depth. It’s a quick, simple moment, but scenes like that can make the difference between lifeless characters and lifeless characters you still hope will win.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Tyler Perry | TYLER PERRY AS MADEA ''These characters are simply tools to make people laugh,'' the writer-director-actor says. ''And I know for a fact that they have…1. Madea: Madea is Tyler Perry’s everything. She built the house he lives in, bought the clothes on his back, and is one of the main reasons he gets to put out three plays and a movie every year. For the few unfamiliar with the matriarch of Perry’s film family, Madea is the great aunt/grandma who headlines each one of his family comedies. As Perry dressed in a floral muumuu, sporting thick granny glasses, a grey wig, and a voice two parts irksome and one part soothing, Madea is both the best and worst thing in the Tyler Perry universe; she is a physical reminder of the duality of his work. On one hand her cloying fast-talking, love for violence, and inclination towards lawlessness are broad comedy gems, the kind of jokes that are just funny enough to be legally classified as humor. We’re supposed to laugh because she’s old, and fat, and mean, and that’s the joke every time; Madea is a one-trick pony, an old dog with no new tricks. And yet, at the same time, there is a little something funny about a grown man in a dress wielding a chainsaw, spitting out one-liners while sitting in a rocking chair. If you’re going to laugh at any moment in a Tyler Perry movie, odds are Madea is on the screen, slapping around her antagonistic brother Joe (also Perry), waving around the gun she keeps stashed in her purse, or saying things like, “I’ll be at church when they get a smoking section!” For better or worse, we’ll never see the last of Madea, not if Tyler Perry has anything to say about it.

The Single Moms Club seems a little different from some of Tyler Perry’s other films. Despite the obvious lack of Madea, there seems to be more white characters than can usually be found in his work, but the departure from the norm stops there. The trailer boasts the same sort of lame jokes and faux-feminism that exist in his other films; for some reason, in a movie about women forming a group in order to support each other, the only thing they can focus on is how to find a man to save them. But who knows, maybe Tyler Perry has read all his reviews and Internet comments and has decided to send up a better class of film this time. That said, even if I had money like Perry, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Will you be seeing Perry’s latest this weekend?

Article by Nia Howe-Smith


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