Defending Tyler Perry
When you are the highest paid man in Hollywod, who cares about critics
Tyler Perry is making more money than any man in Hollywood, and that is as it should be. He acts, he directs, he produces. Perry has worked his way up from homelessness to become a Hollywood player -- his story is a testament to hard work and tenacity. He's earned his place at the top of the heap. He is not without his critics, who don't like how he came to his success -- by parading a cavalcade of coons and Mammy's onto America's big and small screen. I’ve been a Tyler Perry critic, but over time I have become more of a Tyler Perry Apologist: a Perry Explainer, if you will, for people stuck on his madness of his work and not the genius of his message and method.
I've come to understand Perry as a brilliant filmmaker with a firm grasp of what makes for a good story, how to market that story and how to navigate the Hollywood gauntlet without losing your soul. Some people will say he’s sold out, but with his own studio and amid talks of a Tyler Perry network it looks like he’s winning. How did he do it? It's not so hard to figure out. He gives people what they want.
Perry is an expert dramatist who populates his work with the same stock characters other writers put in their works. Like many writers, he is largely telling variations of the same story, over and over again. he's not doing this to be annoying -- this is what the people want. It's not his fault many of us want to see a different kind of story onscreen. New twists are big gambles for Hollywood -- the movie business is built on tried and true formulas that makemoney. Hollywood doesn't make art. it makes money.
Perry is not an auteur like Spike Lee. Lee is like the Black Woody Allen -- his films have a very specific location, very specific visual cues and signatures and a very specific moral thread -- boring and pedantic as it is, sometimes. That debate seems to be about people – artist, classist and others — who believe that they should control the narrative string of black people in this country, and that narrative should only contain one note. But we need Tyler Perry as much as we need Spike Lee. Surely, there need to be more black auteurs, but that isn't Tyler Perry's fault. “For Colored Girls” showed he’s trying to move forward, if in baby-steps.
I think some black movie-goers expect too much of media in general and film in particular. Film is not a social engineering tool to cure people of their ills, or a propaganda device to forward a political agenda. It's entertainment, mostly. And it's never been cheaper to make your own film, so if you have any serious beef, you have just about run out of excuses. Still, people will turn up their nose at his movies -why can’t we let Tyler Perry be great? He’s not an artist—he’s a businessman. Or is he getting rich exploiting inner-city drama in the black community?