Dear Mr. Perry,
Let me begin by congratulating you on your massive success. It is truly commendable to overcome the obstacles you have—molestation, poverty, abuse and homelessness—to becoming the highest paid man in entertainment. If nothing else, your story of triumph is living proof that achieving a dream is attainable even when one’s circumstances reek of hopelessness and despair.
I write this letter as a black woman, journalist and media critic. I have also watched 95 percent of your films and several of your plays. I have had countless debates with intellectuals about the quality of your work and whether or not your depictions of the black community are damaging. In those conversations I’ve often played devil’s advocate arguing both sides of the debate. I have taken offense at the way people belittle your target audience because a part of that core audience are my aunts, mother, cousins and grandmothers. It is one thing to critique your artistry, but it is quite another to demean those who enjoy your work. Mostly I have emphasized on several occasions that you deserve credit for employing black actors and actresses in Hollywood. For whatever reasons the non-black executives calling the shots in Hollywood rarely take chances on black films where the lead characters aren’t thugs, whores, uneducated, uncouth, angry or ghetto. Some of Hollywood’s A-list actresses who have been in the game for nearly two decades struggle with landing quality roles. Not because they aren’t skilled enough at their craft to play the role, but because the roles are nonexistent. It bears repeating that I applaud you for employing black actors.
Where my round of applause halts is your latest letter to your fans, “Kim Kardashian in the Marriage Counselor.” With all due respect, Mr. Perry, this is where I draw the line. You are well aware of the latest controversy over your decision to cast Kim Kardashian in your next film the Marriage Counselor. You stated you’d read enough emails and heard enough backlash that you decided to pen a ridiculously condescending letter justifying your decision. Curious to find out what your response would be I attentively read your letter with disgust after only one paragraph in. Within the first two paragraphs you managed to insult your core fan base who’ve helped you break glass ceilings in Hollywood—black women. Perhaps you need to reread what you wrote so you can understand how problematic it is:
I could not have imagined I’d be getting all these emails about Kim Kardashian. I HAVE SEEN THEM!! YOU HAVE BEEN HEARD!! …LOL. Now, may I say something? Can a brother get a word in?….LOL. Y’all gave me a new movie title, Tyler Perry’s “Diary of a Mad Black Woman Cause You Hired Kim Kardashian, Don’t Make Me Take Off My Earrings and Boycott Yo A**.”…
You continue on with your anecdote about an older woman you met in a Mexican restaurant. Is this supposed to be a black woman since she pronounced Kardashian wrong?
I was in a Mexican restaurant and the cutest little old woman stopped me and said, “I want to talk to you about KAR-DAT- CHA-NEM.” I said, “Ma’am?” She said, “What is wrong with you putting her in the lead role of your movie?”
For the record, I could not care less that you cast Kim Kardashian in the Marriage Counselor. You certainly have the right to cast whomever you think can play the part. I also understand this to be a great business move. You and I know that Kim Kardashian’s role, no matter how big or small, will ultimately get her fans in the theater seats, which equals more money in your bank account. My gripe with you is specifically the way you addressed and depicted black women in your letter, which goes hand in hand with how we’re portrayed in your films.
See, you’re missing the point of why your fans disapprove of your choice. In your attempt to hold Kim K. on this rosy pedestal by attempting to convince us that she is a role model for young girls and women, you shitted on the very women who have made you the Tyler Perry. From what I’ve read, people are specifically concerned about Kim’s role because many believe she lacks talent, therefore is undeserving of the role. You say you want to reach young people, but what example are you setting by casting a woman only famous for fame’s sake? Had it not been for her sex tape with R&B star Ray J, Kim would still be working in a boutique in Cali instead of plastered all over the magazines and boob tube. If it was diversity you were looking for, were there not any A-list white actresses available for the role?
I’m not sure why you chose to reduce black women, again, to the “angry black woman” trope that you’ve used repeatedly in your films. The “Don’t Make Me Take Off My Earrings and Boycott You’re A**” bit further contributes to the notion that all black woman are attitudinal, loud, angry and violent. Post-slavery black women have fought against being the negative stereotypes of the jezebel or Mammy. And we’ve made many strides. However, black women are still marginalized in the media where stereotypes contribute to the fallacy that all black women are monolithic. You, Mr. Perry, have reinforced these same problematic tropes time and time again. This letter is only one of the many examples.
In countless interviews you claim your critics miss the message in your films. I’d argue the message is very clear. Forgiveness, love, trust and family are great stories of morality. The other half of the message in your films is that black women need a man to save them from themselves. Black women are incapable of being happy. Black women are angry. Black women are downtrodden. Black women are many things, but positive they are not. Acknowledging the positive message (i.e. Christian theme throughout your films) does not make you exempt from critique of your portrayal of black women.
The lead actresses in each of your films follow very familiar stereotypes. Only, unlike other Hollywood films that get greenlit, it is a black man writing the script, casting and directing instead of old white men in suits who are distant from the black community. There’s the “angry black woman” in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too?. In Daddy’s Little Girls, The Family that Preys and For Colored Girls there’s the emasculating bitch that is educated and intelligent with a budding career, but she’s intolerable and has to be tamed by her savior—a man. And how about the helpless downtrodden black woman with the unimaginable hard knock life? It takes a man to save her from her woes. Viewers see this trope in Madea’s Family Reunion, Meet the Browns, Madea Goes to Jail and I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Ever so often you throw in Madea for comedy hoping the laughter will distract viewers from the problematic nature of Madea’s character. That’s another letter for another day.
With your most recent letter to your fans it is painstakingly clear that you have issues with black women. Your disregard for black women is apparent. I am no psychologist so I will not pretend to diagnose whether this problem stemmed from your admitted frustrations that your mother couldn’t save you from your father’s abuse, or from the molestation you experienced at the hands of a woman. Maybe it is neither. It is high time you deal with your issues with black women internally and stop inaccurately portraying us in your films.
I will not be supporting your latest film or any other film you make in the future. My decision has nothing to do with Kim Kardashian. Your disdain for the very women who have helped you reach the level of success you’ve achieved is disheartening. It was black women purchasing tickets to your stage plays before Hollywood even knew you existed. As a black woman, I don’t need you to tell my story. What you’re portraying on screen is not the American black woman experience. It certainly isn’t mine. The sooner you realize just maybe there is some validity in the critiques of your work, the better. Black women don’t deserve to be caricatures in your film, patronize your movies with their pocketbooks, only for you to condescendingly show no regard for their valid concerns. By the way, critique isn’t synonymous with angry. I hate to break it to you, but you have us all wrong. And I reject your depictions wholeheartedly. You must do better. We’re demanding better.
A Happily Concerned Black Woman
P.S. Spike Lee isn’t hating on you. He’s right.