More on Tyler Perry's Morality.

Two comments on Nichole’s post on the moral themes  in Tyler Perry’s movies, which was crossposted over on Racialicious, are worth repeating here.


One of my biggest problems with Perry’s films is the reliance on faith as the great problem-solver and the salve for all that ails you, from drug abuse to domestic violence to not having a man. Unreserved forgiveness for heinous acts without requiring accountability is not even advocated by Jesus, so the depiction of a daughter forgiving her mother for pimping her out to her step-father in Madea’s Family Reunion was both disgusting and in no way adequately addressed the long-term trauma and neglected mental health needs of abuse victims, a problem which has particular resonance in the “black community”. As a mental health provider, as a woman, and as a human being, I have no problem with the idea of forgiveness, but acting as if “giving it over to God” is all that is required to heal from abuse and trauma is disingenous and dangerous, and dismisses the real emotional and physical effects of abuse and neglect. For this alone, Perry’s films deserve serious criticism. But, unfortunately, this is only one layer of seriously troubling messages and imagery in his work.

In fact, seen through an explicitly racial lens, there is a definitive connection between old “happy faithful darkies whose love of God sees them through all trials and tribulations” films like “The Green Pastures” and “Hallelujah” and Perry’s contemporary work. An emphasis on faith, community, and a certain version of “family values” is not bad in and of itself, but without counterbalancing visions of black imagery and narrative, Perry’s conceptualization of blackness becomes the prevailing one, and that is most definitely a problem.


Tyler Perry assumes there is some crisis with human moral behavior, when there is really no empirical evidence for it.

That is, it isn’t like a greater number of black people see stealing as OK or devalue education. (Though Tyler Perry seems to do the latter, evidently he thinks WEB DuBois magically acquired his knowledge or that all those people fighting for black women to get educations were trying to destroy the family).

But TP et. al see problems in moral terms. You are rewarded for being faithful. God will take care of it. It’s all on you if you lose your job or fail. there’s no sense of societal responsibility. That’s why even though TP would say “family values” helped people survive segregation, he misses completely the rest of the thought: values help you survive, but they were no help at all in changing a thing.

Bull Connor did not care one whit how often black people went to church. Tyler Perry doesn’t seem to get that.



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • Grump

    My thing is that these points are good and I agree with them to an extent. My belief is that Mr. Perry has not developed or shown HOW “giving it over to God” is done. He touches on the idea, but he does not show how it is really practiced or handled. That there are ministries within churches that deal with recovery and healing from various abuses. The events that happen after fogrgiveness and apologizing need to be shown as well. Because, if they aren’t, then the people viewing these films of his will indeed be given a false sense of hope.

  • soma lux

    i think that if one wants a well rounded fleshed out story one should not be looking for tyler perry to deliver it to them. he is successful because he keeps it very simple. there are a host of people who live everyday waiting on jesus to save them just like his characters. they are his audience. they are why he is so successful. these people DO exist. in fact as an agnostic, i think that the church has been a crutch for black people. relying on jesus to do all the work will get you nowhere. now i do understand and appreciate the need to believe in something higher and more powerful than yourself. perhaps something to get you through the unexplained and incomprehensible. but look how much money goes to the black church. perhaps if folks invested that money in themselves it would be better spent instead of “Rev” getting a new whip or a private jet. now some churches do have special programs that actually help, i will admit. but alot of churches keep things very simple. their followers are simple. and now they have a filmmaker who speaks to them. and he is simple too.

  • young_

    These are good points and the original post was very interesting. However, I’m torn about whether I agree that it makes sense to ask “what Tyler Perry wants from his audience.” First and foremost, he wants them to like his shows and pay him. He knows his core black working-class female demographic and he traffics in stereotypes and tropes that he knows resonate with them.

    This is probably a huge factor behind the prevalence of his vague, feel-good messages about redemption and reconciliation through religion. It also explains why his heroes are so often very masculine but sensitive and family-oriented blue-collar brothers and the villians are usually either unemployed/criminals who reinforce the resentment working class folks often feel toward their “underclass” neighbors and relatives, or ruthless, snobby, self-centered bougie types who play into the audience’s class resentment that upper-class blacks have lost their roots in the black community and think they are “better than” or “too good for” working class folks.

    Just my two cents.

  • grump: care to detail what that would look like?

    young: i don’t think the profit motive negates the moral themes in work.

  • young_

    True. I was just nitpicking about the framing of the original post (the “what does Tyler Perry want from us” bit which to me seemed to imply that Perry was serious about morally indoctrinating his audiences). I was just trying to point out that I don’t think Perry’s trying to indoctrinate anyone so much as score points with people who already share his moral/cultural symbols and assumptions. You’re right though– the moral themes are definitely there and worth discussing, regardless of Perry’s ultimate motives.

  • Nah, you’re right. But even if much of his audience is already especially receptive to his ‘find a good man/walk with Jesus’ message, he’s still propagating that message out to the wider world.

    All of this reminds me of Candice M. Jenkins idea of the ‘salvific wish’ (which i’m surprised we haven’t blogged about before). Here’s a short summary:

    The desire to protect African American culture and persons against pathologizing stereotypes of sexuality and domesticity has been expressed as a salvific wish, a concern with heteronormative propriety that has dominated the black cultural imaginary and representations of black middle-class life in the twentieth century.

    Jenkins argue that one of the ways this desire manifests itself is in a popular belief that black women’s sexual propriety can be a stabilizing force in black families, which is essentially what the mothering, chaste neighbor in Madea Goes to Jail represents.