Tyler Perry: A Case Study

Source: Patterson, Robert J. “Woman Thou Art Bound: Critical Spectatorship, Black Masculine Gazes, and Gender Problems in Tyler Perry’s Movies.” Black Camera3, no. 1 (2011): 9-30. Accessed November 15, 2016. doi:10.2979/blackcamera.3.1.9.

In this article, Robert J. Patterson delves into the world of black women in film, specifically in the films produced by Tyler Perry, a prominent figure in Hollywood. Overall, Patterson’s analysis of Tyler Perry’s films could be described in one word: problematic. Perry claims that his films provide a more accurate and egalitarian representation of black gender relations, but the evidence would say otherwise.

Perry often employs the marriage plot in his films, a common plot progression that ends in a happy marriage. Patterson argues that this marriage fairy tale ending implies that marriage solves women’s social problems; women just need to conform to heterosexual marriage. More so, black women’s subordinate gender roles perpetuated by nuclear families. Patterson writes, “Perry’s endorsement of marriage actually re-entrenches women in the grips of the patriarchal ideologies that facilitate, if not cause, their oppression.” He uses the Cosby Show as an example: its implicit claim is that by adhering to the nuclear family structure and its values, black people could achieve the same middle-class status and financial security that white families experience. So if black women would just let their husbands be the financial and familial heads of the household, then they wouldn’t leave, thus ending the cycle of poverty. Or so the argument goes.


Later in the article, Patterson looks several of Perry’s films and looks into their deeper meaning. In the movie The Family Reunion, there is an engaged couple, Lisa and Carlos, who are experiencing some distress within their relationship. When Lisa goes to her mother and confesses that Carlos is physically abusive, her mother responds, “Then you must stop doing what you’re doing to make him angry. Women sometimes have to deal with things to be comfortable. Be a good wife. Do what the man says, and you’ll be comfortable.” This is a more obvious example of how black women (and women in general) are depicted in a patriarchal society; their role is to be submissive to the men in their lives, then they will be happy. Eventually, Lisa leaves Carlos, but the movie still ends with the happy marriage of another couple, Frankie and Vanessa. Patterson writes, “To that end, the marriage plot maintains its cultural currency, implying that women’s success and happiness lie within the confines of the heteronormative nuclear family.”


In a separate movie, Why Did I Get Married, three couples take a trip together and confide in each other about their marital problems. The theme throughout this film is that men must be the heads of the household in order for marriages to be happy. One of the wives, Diane, is a successful lawyer, yet her success as a lawyer is ignored. Instead, the movie focuses on her failings as a wife and mother; her husband accuses her of ignoring him and their children for her work. Diane agrees to cut back her hours, thus supporting the idea that a woman’s main responsibility is to take care of her family from within the home. Another couple, Mike and Sheila, are experiencing marital distress, but everyone agrees that it is Mike’s behavior that’s causing the distress. Even when this is the case, Sheila is indirectly blamed for being overly dependent on her husband. Both of these examples are products of the patriarchy; in a patriarchal system, women cannot take too much control in their relationships, but they also need to be self-sufficient enough so as to not put too much stress on their husbands.

Patterson concludes his article by stating that if Perry wants to be the progressive filmmaker he claims to be, then he must stop putting his female characters in such restrictive roles.


2 thoughts on “Tyler Perry: A Case Study

  1. Tyler Perry’s movies do create an interesting paradox. He both presents the dependence of women as positive and negative. And how does that impact the viewers on the way they view women? Does it promote a confusing and misleading role or does it help people? I mean that if they are suggesting both the dependent and independent woman, are they trying to promote a woman who can do both? And is that a positive image?


  2. Madea is such a fascinating character. All of the Black women I know love these movies, yet Madea is a fairly classic example of the “mammy” character– though modernized significantly. Is Madea helpful or harmful to perceptions of black women and culture?


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