Black Success vs. Black Stereotypes: The Debate Over Tyler Perry’s Studio, By: Kayla Howard, Spelman College

By November 13, 2019 Voices of Change No Comments

As a future filmmaker, and a student in the Atlanta area, I felt it was important to discuss the grand opening of the Tyler Perry Studios.  Perry’s film studio is not only an accomplishment for himself, but also for the many individuals in the black film industry who often go overlooked by mainstream media, and it serves as an inspiration for young black film students, like myself. However, it is also important to acknowledge that all of Perry’s work has not been positive. Through his films, he perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to the ways in which black people, especially women are perceived by society. His initiative to empower black people in film does not align with the characters in his films. 

For much of my early life, I was a major consumer of his films, because I genuinely found them entertaining. The older I got, the more I realized that the characters he creates very closely align with black stereotypes that have existed for decades. The film industry has a long history of racism, beginning in the 19th century with silent films.  “L’Arrivée d’un Train à la Ciotat” by the Lumière Brothers in 1896 was one of the first films available to the public. As films became more popular over the next few years, they became a vessel for hate into everyday American life. The film industry became inherently racist. The most famous film from this time period being Birth of a Nation (1915). What many of the films from this time period had in common were the prevalence of black stereotypes, such as the Mammy, and Jezebel, which we still see today in many of Perry’s films.

Although his films are problematic, and even racist, they continue to do well. Not only are white viewers engrossed in the images from his films, black viewers, also support him and we are the group negatively impacted by his films! We, as black people have an opportunity to portray black life from the our perspective. Yet, we have chosen to support a filmmaker whose work is an iteration of the same films that were created against us. By supporting his films, we are helping to maintain stereotypes in black films. Perry’s work makes up a huge part of the black film industry, so he has the ability to change its trajectory, but we must first hold him accountable.

What do you think? Is Terry Perry’s studio an overall success for the Black film industry? Or are the critiques valid about Perry’s frequent use of stereotypes?

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