Tyler Perry Hates Black Women: 5 Thoughts on The Haves and Have Nots

The Have And Have Nots

The cast of OWN and Tyler Perry’s The Haves And Have Nots

By Guest Contributor Dr. Brittney Cooper, cross-posted from Crunk Feminist Collective

Welp.

I watched the premiere of  Tyler Perry’s latest train wreck on OWN last night for two reasons. A.) Morbid curiosity and B.) I didn’t wanna hear negroes’ mouths about how I didn’t give it a chance and was therefore uninformed and unqualified to speak on his show (despite the 12 or so movies and 2 stage plays of his I’ve paid to go see and time I spent watching episodes of his existing tv shows that I can’t get back.) Anyway. Here are my thoughts.

1.) Tyler Perry is a cultural batterer:  the cultural equivalent of an unrepentant wife-batterer. Why, you ask? Well, let’s see. In under 15 minutes of episode one there were three Black women: Hanna, a maid, who speaks like she just left the plantation; Veronica, a rich black lady bitch, who throws her coat and hat at the maid; and Candace, the maid’s daughter, a scheming, conniving prostitute who tells people the mom is dead, later can be seen raising her hand to her mom, has her own son who is God knows where, is allegedly in law school, but paying for it by questionable means, and ultimately by the closing scene of episode two can be seen raping the white patriarch/politician.

The fact that Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire, along with their remixes (Bad) Baby Mama, Golddigger, Freak and Hood Bitch showed up in under 15 mins is surely a new world record.

A few caveats: no knock to domestics who speak in Southern dialect — I am from the deep, rural South, love the cadences in our voices, and have a beloved, and dearly missed grandmama who cleaned white folks’ houses well into her sixties.

(But I know a fucking controlling image when I see one.)

No knock to sex workers, who I think should have rights, benefits, and legal protections. Black women sex workers in primetime is a whole different deal representationally, though, and we need to OWN that.

Black women deserve better.

2.) Tyler Perry can only represent Black men positively by throwing Black women under the bus. Since dude’s plotlines are so simple a 13 year old could write them — no disrespect to 13 year olds–, there are of course 3 Black men to balance out the 3 Black women. They include the husband of the rich lady –he’ll prolly be comparable to Scandal’s Cyrus, or at least Tyler prolly thinks that’s what he’s doing, lol; his son, a drug counselor (respectable profession); and the son of the maid, a Shemar Moore lookalike and all around good guy, whose sole aspiration in life is to — wait for it — drive a tow truck. So 1.5 solidly good guys out of 3 ain’t bad. Why 1.5? Because of course the rich drug counselor is on the DL, which in TP’s world makes him a sexual deviant. We’ll see how this plot line develops, but since TP outs dude by way of terrible slow pan shots, meant to simulate not-so-secret longing after the buff white dude, I am not optimistic.

Black gay men deserve better.

3.) I feel some type of way that Oprah would be in league with such foolishness. And that is because I AM NOT AN OPRAH HATER. And I have little patience for people who are. The chick is doing her thing, and I’m proud of her.  And I really want to see OWN do well. That aside. I like to think she has been duped, hoodwinked, and bamboozled. But I know that ain’t the whole truth. Really, OWN is struggling. And when networks struggle, they pimp the “urban demographic” for ratings and money. And once they are set financially, they bounce. The Fox Network did it: Living Single, Martin, In Living Color. The WB, UPN, and the CW all did it. So I see what O is doing, and I resent it.

Why?

I know she and Tyler  share that nouveau-riche-Black-southern-abuse-survivor-started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here connection.

BUT

Oprah doesn’t seem to understand, that a rich, independent, college-educated chick like her, who shuns traditional marriage, is in Tyler Perry’s world the DEVIL, a veritable, conniving bitch, who hates babies, men, and old people, needs Jesus, plus a good slap from a sexy Black man, and will still probably catch AIDS and live in misery because she chose not to conform to the dictates of Christian respectability.

Why Oprah doesn’t get this is beyond me. It seriously is.

OWN deserves better.

4.) On his best day and her worst day, Tyler ain’t even in Shonda’s stratosphere. This whack-ass mashup of Deception + Scandal + The Help in no way compares to anything Shonda Rhimes is doing. I can already hear the brothers now, talking about how Candace’s character is comparable to Olivia’s character. They are comparable in only one way: they both sleep with white men. Comparison over. And that is how you know that Black men’s primary issue with Olivia is not her moral choices, but her racial ones.  (But Edison was a good guy even though he didn’t get chose; and Harrison — well let’s just say I’m #teamGingham all the way.)

I digress.

My love of Scandal should be a clear indicator that my problem with TP is not about respectability politics. In other words, I am not advocating for positive representations. I’m advocating for complex, human representations. TP doesn’t complicate Black women; he demonizes them.

Candace is not just a sex worker, but a sextortionist and a rapist. A predator. She does not merely have mother issues, but she nearly slaps her mom and can’t account for her baby’s whereabouts.

We don’t hate Liv, because while we might reject many of her choices, we identify with her as a human being with needs, emotions, and as a person with the ability to do good in the world, despite the bad she also does.

Tyler Perry just thinks Black women — other than maternal domestics– are bad. That’s why he can’t complicate his analysis. But they have therapists for that, and I wish he’d see one. Posthaste.

And this brings me to my final point:

5.) Tyler Perry is dangerous. He has made Black women mistake hate for love. When his heavy-handedness is still not enough to chastise and discipline us for being independent, driven, and sex-positive, he will resort to straight up distortions of history, and assume that his working class audience will miss the sleight-of-hand. Case en point: that rape scene! Because of course history is replete with poor Black women raping rich white men. Not.

And the fact that he would traffic in such an utter fiction — a fiction that is the very basis for centuries of brutality against Black women on the grounds that they are by nature un-rapeable, a fiction that drove the creation of the culture of dissemblance and the politics of respectability — makes his cultural production not merely bad but despicable.

And that is why I titled this essay: “Tyler Perry hates Black Women.” How can he not?

  • James Jenkins

    Okay!!! one thing that i don’t understand is how people complain about this man all the time is it really that serious? First they say he hates black men, and then they says he hates black women. Which one is it? Second thought, it is a drama so it is suppose to be full of drama. his soap opera is suppose to created hatred and respect for certain characters so i can tell that it is serving it’s purpose. Overall, please stop trying to blame Tyler Perry for black people’s self esteem, and how they stereotype other black people. It’s self esteem so if you feel that this soap opera offends you, then you have a problem with self, and more so, this show can’t force no one to view anyone in any kind of way. If someone doesn’t like you then guess what they don’t like you or your race. # Oprah and Tyler Perry still getting paid!!1

  • ISpeakMyTruth

    I’m so over Tyler Perry. He was fine until he started making movies, he needs to go back and stay with plays

  • asdfasdfa

    I agree that this show is garbage, but the phrasing makes me wonder if there is room for anything but positive roles for blacks on TV? Can’t a character be separate from their blackness or whiteness or latinoness or whathaveyou and just be good or bad? Obviously Tyler Perry is selling to black audiences, but as far as TV in general goes, do shows have to make a conscious effort to portray people of color in a positive light? Or does that only come into play when the network is hamming up a character’s ethnic attributes for the sake of character development?

    • SuperBrother

      No, see the problem comes in when you make characters that are based on racial caricatures which is Tyler Perry’s bread and butter. He doesn’t make simply black characters with depth outside of their race, he jams racial stereotypes into every nook and cranny of every black character. The guy just can’t do it right. Think back to late 80s and 90s black sitcoms a lot of those did A LOT right.

  • Tamara Padgett

    Yeah, I like the show pretty well..at first I thought the acting was stilted and stiff with everyone except for Tika. But I think the actors are settling into their characters and are coming off more comfortable as time goes on. Scandal it is not…but hey I like it. After watching the first 4 episodes, it definitely has me coming back for more. Hopefully there will be some backstory as to why Candace hates her mother so much. You just know there has to be a story there waiting to be told. Also I find it weird that Candace is younger than her brother instead of older. Seems like since the son is so perfect and momma loves him so much and also loves his father more than Candace’s father, it seems like he woulda been born after, since he is obviously getting rewarded with a better relationship with his mother.

    Oh and another thing I forgot to add. Not that it matters but since this site and article are specifically about race, class, and culture, I think the daughter of the white couple looks more [Latin@] than white and wonder if she was adopted, or possibly the child of another man (another possible storyline) and Wyatt is fine as HELL! DAYUM…LOL…Also I wish they had more sets on the show it seems like all the action has to take place between 5 different sets which is limiting. And hopefully we will get to see Veronica’s house.

    • racialicious

      Hi Tamara–

      Not quite sure what you mean by “the daughter of the white couple looks more Hispanic/Latin@ than white.” Since Latino/a is considered an ethnicity and not a race, there really isn’t a Latino/a “look,” since there are such folks as white Latinos and there are white folks with two white parents who come out looking relatively darker-skinned. So, the show’s creators may very well have written the daughter to be white, regardless of how the actor playing her looks.

      Just something to thing about…

  • Ashley McCullough

    Very well written! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was just having a conversation with my wife about TP’s pathology about successful black women. I am convinced his childhood experiences and trauma have driving him to use his medium (screen plays, scripts, movies, etc) to explore his unresolved feelings and issues for the world to see. That in itself is not bad, but unfortunately there aren’t enough black artists, actors, etc to make TP just an individual. He represents blackness for so many in mainstream media and society. What he puts out there can be considered dangerous for that reason and the others you have mentioned.I love the analysis you put about about “nouveau-riche-Black-southern-abuse-survivor-started-from-the-bottom-now-we-here connection” and the “politics of respectability.” There needs to be a national conversation around those two topics, because they are a driving force of many of our subconsicious decisions, behaviors, and anti-isms. Thanks for this post!

  • Shawn0680

    Two quick things:
    1- TP does need to make his characters deeper, and that’s said based on the 1/2 hour comedies he’s done.
    2- This brother has no problem with Olivia Pope because her character isn’t drawn to the man for his skin, just like she didn’t turn the Senator down for his either, but rather because the passion wasn’t there. I would have a problem if she said she didn’t like dating Black men because____.

  • LaLaBound

    I tried to get into the show, but it shouldn’t be this hard! The show is soooo bad! I wish TP wouldn’t stick to his same ol’ formula for everything that he does. It’s like TP didn’t even try with the script. First draft scripts aren’t even this bad. The acting is very mediocre with the exception of Tika Sumpter who plays Candace. But her talent is hampered by the crappy dialogue and others’ bad acting. One person can’t carry the show. I am surprised that Oprah greenlit this show and actually thought it was good.

    The pacing is too contrived and it seems like the twists are quickly exposed by the characters talking about them. He doesn’t keep the audience wondering in suspense. It would be nice if he would seek out other writers.

    I thought the same thing about Candace’s brother wanting to own a tow truck ever since he was a kid – LOL

  • to0ber

    Agreed, he has a thing for black women, and it’s not a good thing.

  • Guest

    I like the show.

  • Lesli

    Perfectly written article. Agree 100%

  • Jane Laplain

    I’m a lifelong Soap Opera fan so I have a higher tolerance for Perry’s work than most (I say “tolerance” deliberately. I don’t think he’s “good” at what he does, except for playing on our national desire for minstrelsy). I’ve long thought that Tyler Perry belonged in daytime melodrama…. he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in creating realistic characters so much as high drama archetypes/stereotypes that are unambiguously good or evil. He never passes up the most tragic plot twist if he can help it, and his characters always manage to be dressed in the “costume” of their particular character. The critical expectations for film and prime time drama are simply too high for Perry, and I don’t believe he has the slightest interest in that kind of critical approval anyway (if in any kind!)

    Assuming Perry is at all salvageable, a Daytime soap format might provide him proper training…. what with the heavy writing demands of a 5 day a week/year round show, maybe he would FINALLY weary of the same tired premise (Mammy is SOooOoOo unappreciated, Sapphire is SoOOOoO unlovable, Jezebel is Damaged Goods!!) and start using some imagination. Then again it might just make him that much more enamored of them, and therefore even more culturally dangerous to black women.

    As for Oprah, I have also hoped she will see fit to air an original daytime soap with a POC focus. Say what you will about the value of the genre, daytime soap fans are legion, and we black and brown fans have NEVER had a show that predominately featured OUR upstairs/downstairs foolishness on any (english speaking) network.

    • Cece Duvall

      Ha that’s crazy but I said the same thing! When I heard about Tyler Perry’s soap opera, I figured ‘alas, something he will be great at!”. I have only watched clips on youtube so I haven’t had the chance to see all of the damage but it’s a shame it didn’t work out better

    • Michelle Kirkwood

      @janelaplain:disqus
      Actually, there was a soap opera called GENERATIONS that aired on, I believe, ABC, from 1989 to 1990—I remember watching it myself—why it only lasted a year wasn’t too surprising,since it didn’t feature white main characters on the show.

      And, yeah, that’s my problem with Perry too—he just wants to stick to the same formula that’s worked for him since day one, without any exceptions (except for FOR COLORED GIRLS,which,frankly,I wish he would have let the sister who did the screenplay for it direct, & GOOD DEEDS,where for once,the main female character was a bit more complicated than his usual—though I think that had more to do with the fact that the marvelous Thandie Newton—whose performance in FOR COLORED GIRLS was one of the best things about the movie—playing that role.) he does not seem to want to take any more out of the box chances/mess with his brand. Even though he’s at the point in his career where he could do that,or whatever the hell else he wants to do.

      • Jane Laplain

        Omg I forgot about Generations, you are so right! It completely skipped my mind, but that’s where Kristoff St. John (most famous for playing Neil Winters on Young and The Restless) first burst onto the daytime scene, I believe. I remember wanting to watch it more than I did but back then there was no TiVo and my mom and I were already dedicated to videotaping the CBS Soaps. As excited as we were about a largely black soap, missing our regular stories simply wasn’t an option! Ha! By the time we were ready to make time to watch it was gone already.

        Don’t get me started on For Colored Girls. I watched it and I weeped, but for all the wrong reasons. It was so difficult to watch so many incredible actors *directing themselves* around a hokey soap opera set up. That was when I KNEW that Perry had NOTHING ELSE in him to give but melodrama, and never would. There were a few moments of rising above the cheese, but only a few. Thandie’s performance was definitely one of them.