Dear Tyler Perry,
Growing up, I watched almost all of your plays, movies, and TV shows — so this is not a letter penned by someone late to your success as a director, producer, writer, and actor. In fact, I distinctly remember, one Christmas morning, happily being gifted several DVD’s, including the screenplays I Know I’ve Changed, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Class Reunion, and I Can Do Bad All By Myself. I am conscious of your triumphant story, from being homeless to a multi-millionaire in ten short years. I respect the advice you have given to writers, like myself, to “have faith, believe, and keep going.” You have opened doors and have provided jobs to countless talented Black actors, actresses, and singers of all complexions. I appreciate the amount of dedication and charitable work you have done with the The Perry Foundation, of which, since 2006, has supported communities with a focus on education, health, clean water, arts, and women’s rights.
So at twenty years old, and after watching your latest movie Acrimony, I am perplexed — to say the absolute very least. I was always aware of the underlying, consistent formula for many, if not all, of your plays and movies. One often characterized by child abandonment, abuse, violence, and drug use. However, it took me a while to realize, and resent, your portrayal of your Black women characters. These women, often emotionally broken before the movie even begins, endure complex, traumatizing experiences that cause violent instability, pettiness, and obsession for their male counterparts. They are caricatures of “angry black women,” a phrase you have used as the basis for your over 15 movies and plays.
Most recently, Acrimony, proves to be, in my opinion, the most careless, disrespectful take of a Black women’s life from you. This melodrama fortunately stars one of my favorite actresses, Taraji P. Henson. Henson plays Melinda, who narrates much of the movie, including flashbacks of moments she wasn’t actually present for, from a couch in a required therapy session. Viewers are taken on a rollercoaster of events that contextualize a tumultuous, emotionally abusive relationship, that climaxes in a low-budget killing spree on a yacht.
The takeaway of Acrimony, or so I believe, is to leave a cheating man who spends years leeching off of your money to fund his dream battery. But not if he strikes gold with his invention, repays you tenfold for your finances, and moves on with his life! Then the takeaway, I guess, is to stalk him and his fiance and attempt to murder them both.
Mr. Perry, what’s up with your issue with Black women?
Acrimony was filmed in eight days and was written by only one person, you. In fact, you are the only writer that has ever been listed for all of your films and plays. And seeing as though you are developing these Black women characters who are filmed with anger and bitterness, or acrimony, do you even plan to empower Black women and their stories at all? Or just eschew a plot where the women gets more than an average ever after? Can you ever represent a Black women whose experiences speak to complexity without reinforcing aged gender politics? Or do Black women, in your eyes, just don’t get to have it all? Can plus-size women tell their own stories? Or are they still not deserving of that, by your standards? Do you plan to stop building women characters that are unhinged and sadistic? Or just continue to punish them permanently by way of abandonment, disease, and death?
Also, I would love to know if you can represent Black men positively without throwing Black women under the bus. I would love to know who or where these women characters are based off of or coming from. I would love to know why the women in Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Why Did I Get Married, Meet the Browns, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, and Madea Goes to Jail, to name only a few, all feature Black women who are introduced as already struggling. I would love to know how long you plan on using the “wealthy abuser, broke good guy, toxic woman, single parent, broken household” storyline.
Because full offense, Mr. Perry, Black women don’t want to see these women being portrayed in your movies. Full offense, these women, and your writing of them, don’t move the greater conversation about the already-existing problem of the characterization of Black women in media forward. Full offense, “written, directed, and produced by Tyler Perry” isn’t impressive anymore when the movie centers someone with an identity you do not share.
Acrimony could’ve been a telling movie about the mental health of Black women, a conversation that is often ignored and barely ever on the big screen. But you deliberately chose to make Melinda, the victim initially, the villain. Viewers could only barely empathize with her, even though she made a plethora of sacrifices, on top of being the only faithful one in that relationship.
How about the next time you make another movie about Black women or one that includes them, have a Black woman write it. Have a Black woman’s input. Hire a Black woman. At least, have someone else look over the screenplay. Because Black women deserve to have their stories told honestly, accurately, and sincerely. We have been the butt of jokes and the victim of abuse in cinema for way too long. Write Black women characters that are autonomous, successful, and mentally stable for a change. But until then, you might want to deal with the issue you have with Black women, or at least the Black women that you base your characters off of, and leave us alone.