Tyler Perry is one of the most prolific filmmakers in recent memory, perhaps the most prolific. Not only does he release movies at an alarming rate, but most of them are deep, well-balanced projects that depict the world with a haunting accuracy. More impressive still is the fact that Perry writes and appears in most of his movies, giving him a skill-set that his contemporaries (with the possible exception of Quentin Tarantino) can only dream of.
Why is it, then, that Tyler Perry isn’t mentioned alongside Tarantino, Peter Jackson, or Christopher Nolan when people talk about big-name Hollywood directors? Why has he never been nominated for anything bigger than an NAACP Image Award? To put it bluntly, why all the disrespect?
Part of the problem is that all of Tyler Perry’s movies have a very specific racial flavor to them, and though it is commendable that he writes for and casts mostly black actors and actresses, this has had the unfortunate side effect of making him the “black director.” This problem has been aggravated by the fact that his movies come so often that they run together in the public’s mind. By releasing so many similar-looking movies in such a short amount of time, Tyler Perry has made himself seem less prolific than he really is. The public thinks of him as one dimensional, because all the previews that it sees look and sound the same.
This brings up another recurring Tyler Perry problem: The character Madea.
I don’t know which crevice in what pit of what forgotten part of Hell this character crawled out of, but Tyler Perry needs to send her back as quickly as he can. It’s a problem that people equate Madea with Tyler Perry movies, because Madea is a caricature. She is a misguided attempt at comic relief, a character that does not lighten the dramatic mood of Tyler Perry’s films as much as she obliterates it. She takes over his movies and negates much of the incredible realism that they so aptly depict. Tyler Perry keeps using her, however, and she is always the focal point of the advertising for any movie that she’s in. The end result is a public perception that Tyler Perry’s movies are about a crazed black woman played by a man in drag. His dramatic prowess is overshadowed by a hulking grandma with an ankle holster and a filthy mouth.
Though annoying characters and thematic homogeneity are significant issues, they are not Tyler Perry’s biggest problem. The real issue is one of marketing. The public can only see what the studios choose to present. Though Tyler Perry must certainly have some say when it comes to publicizing his films, the actual marketing campaigns suggest that his influence is marginal at best. Take, for example, “The Family That Preys.” That should have been Tyler Perry’s breakout project. The movie boasts a diverse, talented cast (including Kathy Bates) and puts a new, modern spin on the too-often-predictable racial tension storyline. This movie should have propelled Tyler Perry past all the qualifiers and left him standing as simply a masterful writer/director. The reason it didn’t is because no one knew that the movie had been made. I don’t remember one commercial, billboard, or internet ad prior to the film’s release, and I only recall a light smattering of press before the DVD started selling.
Compare that to “Furry Vengeance,” which has gotten so much publicity that anyone walking the streets could do a dissertation about the plot. It doesn’t matter that the movie looks like an absolute travesty that Brendan Fraser should be beaten and jailed for, because the studio is throwing so much money into the advertising that children will flock to the theaters, along with their parents, and this will give “Furry Vengeance” a decent financial run that will propel the inevitable sequel.
Why is it, then, that Tyler Perry can’t get the same treatment for “The Family That Preys?” The studios have been more than willing to promote all of the Madea movies, to the point where the character has become synonymous with Tyler Perry himself. Why don’t they show the same kind of support for a movie that is deeper, more relevant, and in a word, better than Tyler Perry’s other work?
It might be because Tyler Perry is already making the studios enough money by being the “black director.” He’s wrapped up a demographic, and that’s a cash cow that the studios don’t want to lose. So what if Tyler Perry wants to be more ambitious, reach out to a wider audience, or make a more relevant film? The studios already have plenty of those. What they need from Tyler Perry is a “black movie,” his own artistic potential be damned.
To be fair, it is entirely possible that Tyler Perry is perfectly happy right where he is. After all, he has become rich and successful by telling the stories that he wants to tell. He must know, however, that his stories are overwhelmingly geared towards one demographic, and that they are marketed as such. It must be disturbing to him when he writes a movie that can be cross-promoted, only to see it receive virtually no publicity at all. Tyler Perry is an artist, and artists want their work to be seen by as many people as possible. No matter how successful Tyler Perry is in his niche, there has to be a part of him that wants to reach a wider audience. He has to do his part by writing more movies like “The Family That Preys.” Let’s hope the next time he does, the studios do their job and make sure the whole public knows what a talent he is.
Story by Jose Flores
Starpulse contributing writer