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The Tyler Perry Issue

Normally, when The Boondocks airs I’m busy reading so I record the episode to watch later. But something told me to watch this episode. And I died. Aaron McGruder is known for taking satirical shots at public figures, having lampooned everyone from Condoleezza Rice to R. Kelly. Sunday’s episode was not at all subtle in criticizing Tyler Perry.

I was discussing the show with a friend when he compared the widespread dislike of Perry and his work to the criticism that Zora Neale Hurston received from the “intellectual elite” of her day.

Huh?

He further expanded on his thoughts by saying that the Tyler Perry debate is just another example of the class struggle between educated Blacks and poor, church-going Blacks. I almost buy this but we can’t put Tyler Perry in the same conversation as Zora Neale Hurston.

Firstly, just no. Anyone that has adequately studied Zora Neale Hurston knows that her depiction of the Black community was grounded in her academic work. She skillfully wove her ethnographic research into her literary work. Her focus was celebrating a particular segment of the Black community.

If we are to entertain the argument that the Tyler Perry issue is an extension of Black cultural politics (leaving Zora Neale Hurston out of the conversation), then there is no reason to question why his work is rejected (if it is) by the “elite” members of the Black community. His representations of educated Black women render us, as a group, maladjusted, cold and (in Why Did I Get Married Too) the reason for all relationship issues.

Tyler Perry’s work lacks complexity. He isn’t providing or opening up to any conversation on the stereotypes that he depicts. He is profiting from them, propagating them, perpetuating them. And some of us are eating that shit up.

We created Tyler Perry. First you bootlegged those plays. Then you went to see the movies. And now you’re watching those wretched TV shows. We haven’t asked Tyler Perry to go deeper with his imagery. We haven’t boycotted him or his work. We haven’t discussed the fact that he’s a terrible writer and director. We haven’t examined the fact that he paints Black women as Sapphires, Mammies and all damaged stereotypes in between. Maybe it’s because his work is buried so deeply in Christianity that it’s almost blasphemous to criticize it.

Perry’s biggest flaw is simple: HE CAN’T WRITE. His characters are poorly developed and he relies on the sharp contrasts between his one-dimensional characters to advance his plot and…he really just sucks at writing. In that sense, I don’t think the Tyler Perry issue is predicated on class struggle in the Black community. It’s really a matter of taste.