I assure you that I’m not one of those, “Tyler Perry is the scourge of cinema,” folks. There have been way too many, so-called, think-pieces on the quality of Perry’s films and television work, their subsequent effect on the Black community, and I do not plan to add to that number.
Admittedly, I do think he makes shitty films, but I also understand that a lot of reasonable people happen to like his work. In that regard, he’s no different from Michael Bay or, I don’t know..is McG still around? Perry also employs dozens of Black actors and writers, who otherwise might have trouble getting on screen, and will continue to as long as his string of successes continues at its current pace. As far as I am concerned, he’s alright with me.
Still, finding out that Minister Louis Farrakhan, he of the fire and brimstone speeches, controversial stances on political and cultural issues, and the perceived Black rage that has struck fear in the hearts of a hell of a lot of white people over the years, is a fan of Perry’s most famous character “Madea,” was a bit of a surprise.
In fact, the thought initiated one of my first Tyler Perry-related laughs in years. I imagined the Nation of Islam leader in a packed theater chewing on a Twizzler, a nine dollar soda in his hand, unable to contain himself as he enjoyed Madea’s big screen hijinks. The thought of the minister removing his gold-rimmed glasses to wipe away tears after Perry’s alter-ego bopped someone on the head actually made me chuckle. So Tyler Perry made me laugh. Indirectly. Sort of.
It turns out that calling the minister a fan is a bit of an understatement. He praised Perry’s portrayal of Madea as “bringing to the forefront the strongest person in the history of our sojourn in America […] That strong, Black woman who was the cornerstone of her family.” Farrakhan’s point is not one I have frequently encountered after reading and hearing several arguments for and against Tyler Perry’s films. The thought that the character Madea is of serious cultural import as a representation of the frequently matriarch led black family often goes unmentioned in the discussion of whether the films are celluloid poison or good old fashioned fun.
Maybe there is a deeper meaning to it all. Maybe not. Still, if we can learn from the minister’s comments, and strive to look beyond our initial impressions when digesting art of all genres, we may find ourselves surprised with our conclusions.
See Minister Farrakhan speak on Tyler Perry at the 10:27 mark.