Article first published as Tyler Perry – Who is He? on Technorati.
If you’re white, you probably are wondering who is Tyler Perry? If you’re black, you’re probably wondering why am I asking, and the answer is yes, I know who he is. This will set the tone for this article. Tyler Perry has become a household name in the African-American community in general, and the church-going African-American community in particular. If you’re wondering what does this article have to do with politics – everything! When you’re dealing with a medium (Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise) you’re dealing with; social issues, class,race and politics.
Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise has made him one of the highest paid movie directors in Hollywood (ranked by Forbes as the sixth highest-paid man in Hollywood). However, it’s come at a cost. There are some in the black community, including Spike Lee, who see his work as “coonery” and “buffoonery,” Something of a modern day minstrel show. There is a reoccurring theme in Tyler Perry’s work. It’s message targets the African-American community, has strong ties to the African-American church and family. Tyler Perry has hired blacks in his office, in front of the camera and behind the camera. While he is enjoying enormous commercial success; he has his critics, who feel that this depiction of black pathology only serves to fuel negative imagery and stereotypes of black life.
This is a rare glimpse into the division within the African-American community (which is by no means monolithic) that does not often expose itself to the white community. We (African-Americans) generally don’t like to aire our dirty laundry to the greater community and prefer to keep this to ourselves. There are two camps with strong opinions, both pro and con regarding Tyler Perry and his work. He clearly has the support of the working-class, church going segment of the African-American community. The Black Bourgeoisie is another issue. They see Tyler Perry’s work as something of an incarnation of minstrelsy, that we would all like to see forgotten and left in a dark and traumatic past, where it belongs.
Then you have a very tense and vitriolic war of will and words between, Tyler Perry and Spike Lee, the two-time academy award nominee, whose feud has spilled into the public domain. Something we in the African-American community don’t like to see (black folk fighting each other with a white audience watching and laughing).
This writer is torn with allegiances to both Tyler Perry and Spike Lee. I’m of the opinion that Spike Lee should have won an Oscar for his work on Malcolm X, which was powerful film adaptation of the controversial African-American leader. Tyler Perry’s rise from homeless to box office phenom is nothing short of miraculous. He is in complete control of his own empire and is highly successful; not to mention close friends with Oprah. No matter where you stand on the debate over his style, you have to give Tyler Perry credit for his creativity and business acumen.
Spike Lee has always done work that is very controversial i.e. “Do the right thing,” “Malcolm X,” Perhaps this could have something to do with whites beginning to embrace Tyler Perry’s work. Comedy is more easily accepted than thought provoking social and political messages that have a racial subtext. With comedy there is no finger pointing and folks can just laugh and not get caught up in politics and pressing social issues. This may be partly to blame for the very public rift between Spike Lee and Tyler Perry. As Tyler Perry’s empire continues to expand, the chasm between these two may expand as well. Those of us in the African-American community wish them both much success, regardless of our politics.