Aaron McGruder Vs. Tyler Perry
The Boondocks' Winston Jerome
· June 22, 2010
If you missed it, this past Sunday’s episode of Boondocks took a major stab at media mogul Tyler Perry. The episode reminded me of a Facebook conversation I had with a friend a few months back when I asserted that Perry was a gay man. Her surprised reaction led me to add, “Of course, I don’t know this personally, but that’s what I’ve heard”. In that moment, I had validated a rumor about the man, though I don’t know him at all – but I’m not the first.
In spite of his massive success as a playwright, producer, filmmaker, etc (the list is extensive), Tyler Perry has been a controversial character in the community. He undoubtedly has a built-in audience for his artistic creations, based on the success of his religious-tinted Madea stage plays, a medium several Black men have found to be an avenue of success. (Y’all remember Shelly Garrett and Beauty Shop Parts I -VI?) But rumours of his alleged homosexuality, his formulaic and often predictable story lines, and his sometimes questionable characterization of Black people leaves many viewers on the fence about the man and his work. Even Spike Lee had to speak on it.
But I wonder – is this “crab in the barrel” syndrome that causes many of us to critique Tyler instead of just embracing his work, no matter what it is? Tyler seems to think so. After all, the man is the Black American dream – tall, handsome, articulate and successful. His business savvy has provided him with the sort of autonomy most folks in Hollywood can only dream of, and has allowed him to rub elbows with the elite of the industry (i.e chartering a jet to go check on his homegirl Oprah after she’s complained of having a hard day).
Let’s consider some of the points McGruder brings up in the episode: Perry’s use of cross-dressing in spite of his story lines having a Christian undertone; his grand presence in theatre, film, and television; and his alleged homosexuality. Dave Chappelle discussed the issue of cross-dressing and the black male comedian, and how too often black male comedians are asked to wear dresses in their performances, and how he flat out refused to do it because he saw the pattern. Perhaps, like many, Perry did not notice the pattern – and if he did, saw it as a successful method for storytelling since it has been repeated. Can’t fault him for that without criticizing Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Robin Harris, and Eddie Murphy, amongst many others. It would seem that the bulk of his fan base is primarily comprised of members of Black churches; the irony here is that the Black church historically has been homophobic, but somehow Perry’s cross-dressing slips under the radar.
His dominance in the industry – well, who wouldn’t want that kind of power in that business? If anything, Perry is creating a template to be admired and followed, not frowned upon. And homosexuality? Unless you have slept with the man personally, there’s not much to be said about what happens behind closed doors. Maybe McGruder knows something the rest of us don’t.
If there is any issue this writer has with Perry, it would be the formulaic, simple storytelling, and his often silly, immature characterization of Black men. We are too complex a people for the stories to be so easily predictable, and furthermore, the immature Black man is a stereotype that we need not feed into. If anything, Perry should consider hiring new writers with a different perspective from his own to diversify his filmography. On that note, TP, you know where to find me.