Tyler Perry Exploits Black America

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Actor, director, playwright, screenwriter, producer and, author Tyler Perry has taken Hollywood by storm. Perry has grossed close to $500 million in domestic box office receipts since 2005 (Smith) with his stage plays that have been turned into movies. Being ranked by Forbes magazine as the sixth highest-paid man in Hollywood (Daniels), Tyler Perry has revolutionized black entertainment by becoming the first black man to own a major movie and television studio in Atlanta, GA (Walker). I like Tyler Perry and enjoyed his early stage productions and films such as “Daddy’s Little Girl’s” and “The Family that Preys”. However, I struggle with his portrayal of black people, more specifically on his TBS television show, “House of Payne”. Perry’s “House of Payne” exploits African Americans as entertainment, combining slap stick comedy with regressive stereotypes with characters such as Curtis the Coon, Ella the Mammy, Janine the Drug Addicted, selfish Mother and Calvin the “Happy Negro”, remedial Player. I plan to deconstruct the “House of Payne” to reveal its minstrelsy nature and demonstrate how “House of Payne” does nothing to counteract racial assumptions that black people are ignorant, hip hopping, over weight jigaboos that are nothing more than comic relief.

Tyler Perry supporters, who are mostly black, church going women, feel as though they can relate to Perry’s characters, strong Christian messages, and are happy that Perry keeps black actors on the big screen, and on television (Smith). Much has been

said about Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and how it is a new millennium minstrel show. Minstrel shows consisted of white male actors, in black face that performed what they perceived as blackness. Performers of blackface interpreted blacks to be lazy, buffoonish, cowardly characters that often lied, stole and mangled the English language (Stark). Ultimately minstrel company owners hired black men and women, emphasizing that their ethnicity made them the only true delineators of black song and dance (Mahar). Black minstrels added religious themes to their shows while whites shied from that made them a popular hit amongst other blacks. Once minstrel shows began to decline in popularity, blackface continued by way of film (Mahar). One of the most notable actors was Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, also known as “Stepin Fetchit”. Although he was the first black actor to become a millionaire, the persona of “Stepin Fetchit”was the quintessential lazy, foolish, shucking and jiving Negro (White). Film critic, Armond White in his essay The Rehabilitation of "Stepin Fetchit” asserts:

“Should African-American performers be accountable to political correctness? To what degree should they worry that their antics shape the self-image of young African-Americans? Should they follow any standard other than their own conscience? Should they have a conscience? ... The psychological rationale for racism cuts two ways—flattering whites and defaming blacks—and it rebounded upon Stepin Fetchit and stained his soul. “

Whites projected stereotypes onto black people and now we help them out: the buffoon, the Mammy and the Jezebel have been replaced with the ghetto fabulous drama queen, the feminized male, the thug and the dope fiend.

Television is a powerful agent of information that not only shapes our way of seeing the world, but influences how we view and understand differences (Ford). The stereotyping of African Americans can partly be attributed to television limiting black actors to roles to jezebels, street punks, simple minded servants, and violent criminals. With the success of the Tyler Perry brand, Todd Boyd, Professor of Critical Studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts, asserted that Tyler Perry's works “are rooted in some of the worst stereotypes that have ever existed” (Svetkey, Watson, Wheat). Donald Bogle, author of Toms, Coons, Mulatoes, Mammies & Bucks: An...
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