An Open Letter to Tyler Perry

By Guest Contributor Chris MacDonald-Dennis

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Mr. Perry,

I had promised myself months ago that I would not comment on your movies anymore because it was only serving to raise my blood pressure.  Like the Serenity Prayer says, I was going to accept the things I cannot change.  It worked for a while, too.  But then you released Temptation, and I had to say something.

For years, I have believed that Black folks deserve better than you. I realize that this can be seen as patronizing.  You see, I am not Black.  Some may say that I do not have a right to comment on you and Black communities. I would actually agree with them. I may have my opinions about your “artistry” and the impact of your movies on Black communities but that is an intra-community discussion for Black folks to have. This will certainly not stop me from holding my opinions and sometimes sharing them; however, I do believe that it is Black folks who need to begin that particular conversation.

However, this time you decided to talk about my community: those of us living with HIV/AIDS.

In Temptation, you choose to make HIV be seen as a disease that people “deserve” for cheating on their partner.  HIV is understood as a punishment for our sinful behavior. The end of the movie is the most telling: the woman with HIV is lonely and ugly, while the people without HIV are beautiful and coupled.  You could not have made this movie any more of a so-called morality play.

I have two issues with this: 1) the idea that HIV is a disease that will leave us lonely, dejected, and is somehow deserved and 2) your cartoonish, simplistic view of Christianity.

Mr. Perry, I found out that I was living with HIV in 1996.  Do you know my “sin”? Not loving myself enough to demand my partner use a condom.  I did not deserve this disease.  This was not a punishment for my supposed sinfulness.  It is a virus, period.

Contrary to what you think, my life has actually blossomed since I was diagnosed 17 years ago.  I met my life partner, received my doctorate, married my partner, had two wonderful jobs, and begun seminary.  HIV actually allowed me to see the beauty in humanity.  I have experienced an outpouring of love and support.  Is everything perfect? Of course not, but my life is full of wonderfulness.  HIV has not taken that away.

As a minister-in-training, I have to challenge your version of Christianity.  “Good” people are distinct from “bad” people.  “Good people” may hurt but they will end up blessed in the end.  “Bad” people will suffer for their evil ways. Your morality plays (let us remember that this is not your first time showing HIV in a movie.  Try as I might, I cannot forget your portrayal of HIV in For Colored Girls) follow a trite “Christian” morality that does not help anyone.  You want to see the world in black and white, when the world is really a bunch of gray.

Guess what?  God was with me when I found out I had HIV.  God had wanted me to love myself more, of course. But God did not abandon me. In fact, God is there with us even more when we slip up. It is then that God loves us even more fiercely. I am thankful that I shall one day serve as an alternative to your version of Christianity.

Mr. Perry, none of us “deserve” HIV.  HIV is not punishment for our supposed sins.  Like I said earlier, it is a virus, a disease.  We are not pitiful creatures rejected by society. We are full human beings who are living as best we can.

In truth,

Chris MacDonald-Dennis


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  • Michelle Sujai

    A friend was thinking about going back to her Ex who has 3 children by 2 different women, She saw the movie & decided her nice country boy is better, safer. A few weeks later she found out her ex has another girl pregnant. Is her Ex an example of Temptation?

  • Gary

    This current mess called Temptation – Same Terry Perry modus operandi…

    Terry ‘Perried’ Perry makes movies for a certain group of people. If you are smart and
    very intelligent, his movies will dumb you down to his level. Then you find
    yourself waking up, saying what just happen here?

    This current mess called Temptation is one of those crazy #$%$ movies. He
    always feature successful black men as crazy with multiple personalities,
    abusive to women, handing out AIDS like candy, getting woman addicted to
    cocaine, raping women they already dating, etc, etc, etc…

    Terry Perried will never stop or veer away from this pattern of delusional dysfunctional mess
    toward black men and women. I’m black and have never beaten a woman, used or
    got anyone hooked on drugs, and so on… His movies reflect that we are all like
    his characters and other races of people with little intelligence may think the
    same… Thank goodness, his movies don’t play well over seas.

  • Nathaniel Wade

    I don’t comment a lot but I respectfully disagreed with so much of what
    you said that I thought I should give it a shot. So here goes: 1. It’s a
    nice sentiment to pretend that Tyler Perrys’ films aren’t made to
    particularly cater to black audiences. Only thing is that that is
    exactly what they are made to do. “For us by us” is a quote he favors in
    regard to his “cinematic malt liquor”…. I meant films. I’m willing to bet that the “memo” this author received was more so a
    decision based off of experience/ knowledge of the sensitivity in
    regards our nations history with race. Apparently
    his experiences have led him to choose being safe over being sorry. If
    that’s his comfort level then that’s his comfort level (damned if you
    do….damned if you don’t). Also the truth of the matter is that
    Hollywood IS “black and white” (although I wish it weren’t and
    thankfully it seems to be changing somewhat) To somehow suggest that
    Hollywood is colorblind with casting and green lighting projects is
    simply incorrect. You stated that your comment isn’t conclusive; perhaps
    your intent was that it shouldn’t be black and white although it is. So
    I can’t fault the author on that one. Tyler Perry is being judged along
    a “moral campus (compass?)” because all of his films deal with morality
    and carry an undertone of religious content. Although morality doesn’t
    necessarily rely on religion they are, however, closely intertwined.
    Your comparison to Seth McFarlane is bizarre to me and as strange as
    comparing an apple to a banana. The tone of their projects couldn’t be
    any different. And Seth McFarlane is shock value comedian. (not being moral is kinda his thing)

    • African in American

      I had not seen the quote or tagline “For us by us” associated with Tyler
      Perry movies, maybe I just don’t watch Tyler Perry movies enough? Some
      evidence would help here, with sincere hope that you did not make the
      ‘quote’ sound profoundly overreaching to all of Tyler Perry’s “cinematic
      malt liquor” than it should be. My main point is that one should not be
      black to comment on Tyler Perry’s movies, with my exhibit A, this
      letter from a white author who found the themes of HIV and Christianity
      construed, “cartoonish and simplistic.” If Tyler Perry put out the memo
      that his movies are only to be viewed and criticized by black people,
      then I blame him first! Limiting his audience to the black community is
      utterly cheap marketing to command blind allegiance to his mostly bad
      movies. But more than that, the sense of ownership, executed by means of
      exclusion only perpetuates the racial divide whose history we claim to
      have an understanding of. I don’t see how labeling movies as exclusively black and white is any different than labeling water fountains colored and white.
      I know that’s what we have right now (movies), and I am trying to say
      that’s what we should not have. By saying so, I am arguing that ‘black
      movies’ should be judged on the same playing field as The Godfather for
      example, or Boondock Saints. (You call them apple and banana, I call
      them fruits!). In the long run, this challenges the black movie makers
      to produce better quality of work that is not blindly consumed by the
      black community and cheaply justifiable for white audiences to shun. I
      agree with most of what you said, but I am suggesting as the audience we
      can choose to be better than Hollywood. Imagine if Django was Unchained by a black writer and director, the horror! The outcry…

  • Bob Gordon

    There is a tendency in normative culture to fuse two stereotypes: Superstition-driven Christian black folk and the savage-savants of Heart of Darkness. You see this far too often in mainstream film — from the pussy-eating phobia exhibited by nearly all Tarantino’s black males to the conflation of AIDs and the Lord’s punishment in Tyler P to the prophet-savant magic negroes in virtually every adaptation of Stephen King. All of this is insulting and unhealthy — not only for the audience who buys into the ideas but for living people whom its characterization replaces with thoughtless humannequins. We do not need to be supporting Tyler Perry in this no matter how admirable he might be as an entrepreneur or talented as a performer. The people he degrades with such portrayals deserve better representation.

  • Aura Borealis

    Nothing but truth.

  • Whitney

    I agree with Hans Anggraito, “if there isn’t enough reasons to hate Tyler Perry…” As much as people may love his movies (because they can identify with the pain, self-pity, and humorous reinforcements of stereotypes), one really needs to look at what he is doing to African-Americans and/or African-American women. I agree with MacDonald-Dennis that “Black folks deserve better.” In my opinion, Perry is constantly trying justify things and teach viewers ‘everything happens for a reason, and here are those reasons.’ Take, for example, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, because we are all familiar with the “angry black female.” Perry felt the need to broadcast her, and show how she became that way; because she was destroyed by a man. And, of course, she will get her revenge. Moral: don’t hurt a black woman, because she will go mad and kick you when you’re down. And how could we forget Madea’s Family Reunion (Madea being the ultimate modern day depiction of the Mammie-gone-ratchet), in which Vanessa could not accept a “good man” into her life because she was hurt before. It’s like Tyler Perry is trying to beat into women’s heads that if they can keep themselves under control, there are a ton of damn-fine good men out there waiting to sweep them off of their feet. And this is why I have not seen Temptation; I’m sick of “TP” and all that he tries to beat into peoples’ heads. (That, and the fact that he so obviously is trained in play-writing and not movie-writing.) But all that MacDonald-Dennis has outlined about the movie seems just like typical Perry, so I have no desire to see any more of his movies.

  • Felise

    Thank you for this post. I could not have been more disappointed or disgusted by this film. I would like to add a third point to your critique… 3) Black WOMEN (the majority of Mr. Perry’s audience) deserve better. This movie was filled with so many toxic messages. I believe it was a direct attack against Black women. Tyler Perry has made a lucrative career out of spoon-feeding the Black community heteronormative and Christian ideals. However, this movie took things to a new extreme. It served as a PSA announcement to Black women that if you cheat on your husband and “lose you religion”, you will lead a sad, lonely life with HIV. One word: Trash. I wonder if he realizes how damaging a story like this is. Unfortunately, I think he truly believes that his movies are somehow of service to the Black community.

  • Renee Bronw

    Dont hate on T.P. he is doing his shit. I love it.

    • Nathaniel Wade

      No ones hating on him. That would imply that there’s jealousy and or people aren’t willing to give him props. We just think his movies SUCK. That’s all. You love em….the rest of us don’t. No hatin at all.

  • Juniysa Serens

    Cosigning 100%. I did not sit well with the ending. You summed up my feelings perfectly.