Earlier this month, Tyler Perry, renowned director, producer, actor, and writer, made things happen in Atlanta by opening a 330-acre filming complex in the Fort McPherson. We saw just about all of America’s major African-American celebrities in attendance. Some of the stars that were present included Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Cicely Tyson and plenty more popular faces. The studio boasts 12 sound stages built on a site that during the American Civil War, served as an army base. Perry has been, for a long time, making ground-breaking moves; in 2006 he opened his own studio in Atlanta, rising as the first African-American to do so and in 2015, he bought a portion of the Fort McPherson. What he has recently achieved with this filming complex is undoubtedly a major achievement for Tyler, especially when we consider his initial steps into his career and dealing with occasional homelessness. Tyler Perry now owns one of the largest studios in the US and still has plans to further develop the area to feature retail shops and restaurants, to allow the community to visit the studio more casually.
Since the renowned producer, who started out writing and producing plays, broke into the film industry, he has succeeded in dividing audiences in (black) cinema over his portrayal of black men and women. It’s common to find that in his movies, the leading men are often manipulators and abusers and where they are not, will be good guys who get done wrong. His leading women are almost always devoted to their male counterparts and are needy of their love and attention. Tyler does not leave out feelings of jealousy, pettiness and resentment from coming through from these women, who are also portrayed as emotionally broken. Their journeys are agonizing, complex and involve traumatic experiences that result in the women becoming many versions of ‘angry’. Examples of this specific style of Tyler Perry can be seen in movies such as Diary of a Mad Black Woman,For Colored Girls, Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married andAcrimony, which especially sparked outraged from audiences that disapproved of Perry’s narrative of black women, the consensus being that he had taken it too far as with the title too which means “bitterness or ill-feeling”, and the movie did not disappoint in delivering all of that and more!
“My audience and the stories that I tell are African-American, stories specific to a certain audience, specific to a certain group of people that I know, that I grew up with, and we speak a language… Hollywood doesn’t necessarily speak the language… A lot of critics don’t speak that language. So, to them, it’s like, ‘What is this?’ ”
Whilst some audiences are not impressed with how Tyler Perry portrays his characters, I am not mad about it at all. I understand that Tyler does not merely pick these characters from trees but that they are characters that actually exist; we know them in our personal spaces too. These are characters that he and many other people see and experience around them. Perhaps we don’t want to have black women portrayed in this way but what about the people that need these stories? The ones who identify with these characters? This is why I am not angry about how Tyler Perry tells of what he sees because whilst I may not identify with a character, a group of other women may find healing in seeing their own pain being played out. It’s especially good for a black man to acknowledge what women go through and how black men serve as either perpetrators, enablers or suffer in these relationships that present dynamic situations.
In an interview with CNN, Perry expressed that he understood why for so long he had been ignored in Hollywood and treated with disregard. He said that he got why Hollywood wouldn’t comprehend and appreciate the African-American stories specific to a certain audience, specific to a certain group of people that he knew and grew up with and spoke a certain language with. He said that he also knew well that his work impacted on millions of people globally and was well aware of the significance of each word and joke he scripted and of how people from where he comes from and the people he writes for appreciate his content. And I couldn’t agree more!
And now with the studios that he has built and owns, many more black men and women are welcome to and can write whatever they like, they can tell their narratives and bring us their worlds which we may or may not identify with. We keep learning from Tyler on owning your story, telling it like it is and not seeking to appease audiences that want to determine and direct narratives, especially black stories told by black people. We’re here and look forward to more of these stories and stellar performances from black actors.