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