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Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Tyler Perry Double Standard

Tyler Perry is one of the worst storytellers in Black cinema. Which frustrates many writers like myself.

It’s aggravating to watch Tyler Perry present such sloppy storytelling to African-American audiences. His stories are filled with exposition, plot holes awkward dialogue and one-dimensional characters.

Worse, in a lot of cases he does no research to make sure the details line up. For example in his recent film Good Deeds He states that Wesley Deeds is a Fifth-Generation Ivy league graduate. However, the first person to graduate from an Ivy league school was in 1853. Doing the math it’d be impossible for Wesley Deeds to exist.

Another example of his lack of research is in Good Deeds. In his story the widow of a soldier is forced to live out of her car and work as a janitor. But widows of soldiers killed in action are given up to $400,000. A person with that kind of money wouldn’t be living out of their car and working as a janitor.

And I won't talk about how this woman's daughter would receive Social Security Survivor's benefits until she turns 18. 

With soldier's benefits and Survivor's benefits from Social Security  his ready-made victim wouldn't be living in poverty. 

A third example of Perry’s lack of attention to detail was in Why Did I get Married Too. In that story The Police officer, has a hard time finding a job. But this was a former Sheriff in Denver. From my research (Just going to the Atlanta police Department website) I was able to find that Police departments such as the Atlanta P.D. are always hiring. And people with law enforcement experience are hired faster than candidates from outside. This has been the standard for every Police Department in the United States.

Some people may not think much of the things I’m pointing out But it’s those little details that make a story all that more entertaining. It’s the attention paid to these details that turn a good story into a great story.

It’s the difference between making Dolemite and Do The Right Thing. Both are memorable, but one is memorable for being absolutely terrible while the other is a memorable for a human story that stays with the viewer long after they’ve viewed it.

The things that angers me most is the double standard the Black community applies to Mr. Perry as compared to other writers, directors and filmmakers. Among Brothers and sisters he continues to get a free pass for producing poor quality work. Meanwhile the work of other writers who strive to do better like myself is scrutinized to the smallest detail.

Black people will complain about covers, or an unintentional typo or grammatical error in my work and the work of other artists, but Mr. Perry who can’t get MAJOR details right in a story is praised for his craft and given NAACP Image Awards for shoddy work.

Worse, when writers like myself present valid criticisms of Mr. Perry’s poor quality storytelling we are shouted down by rabid zealots who make excuses for him. These deflections and shaming techniques are so familiar I can recite them verbatim:

Tyler Perry Puts Black actors to work. But what most Black people don’t understand is that there’s work and there’s experience.

Work is something you do for a paycheck. A person works for a couple of hours a week and collect a check. They have no personal connection to their work, nor have they learned anything they’ll apply elsewhere.

An experience is where people form a connection with their work. They develop their existing skills and learn new skills approaches and techniques. Skills approaches and techniques a performer can use towards building their craft and apply towards future jobs in their career.

A Black actor working for Tyler Perry is the equivalent of a college graduate working at McDonald’s. It’s a paycheck for pocket money. They’re learning nothing about the craft of acting they can apply to their careers later on.

What’s worse is when a Black actor does enough of these poor quality jobs and their acting skills will start to stagnate, or worse atrophy. When an actor plays the same types of characters all the time like Black actors usually do in Tyler Perry projects, they wind up stalling in their craft. They never grow as performers or develop the wide range of their White counterparts.

Thanks to Perry’s shallow writing, no actor in one of his projects learns to dig deep and find the heart and soul of their character. When an actor is presented with a strong story they’re inspired to dig deep and find the spark that makes the person they’re playing come alive. And when they find that spark they connect with the audience. Their actions are real to the audience. The audience understands their motivations. It turns a movie from a film playing on a screen into an experience the viewer never forgets.

Nor does Perry provide the right motivation for his actors when he directs. Because Perry doesn’t write well, he doesn’t understand what makes his characters tick below the surface. Lacking a clear understanding of who his characters are and what drives them prevents him from giving his actors the support and coaching they need to give their all when they perform. Thanks to this poor preparation they never learn anything about screen presence, charisma or energy. Most of the acting I see is one dimensional forced, awkward and flat in his films.

Tyler Perry is the only person making Black films. A deflection from the truth. No, he’s the only popular person making Black films. There are a dozen people making great Black films like I will Follow. These films don’t get the press or the distribution because they’re made by independent filmmakers who lack the cash to promote their work.

Moreover, they aren’t supported by African-American audiences because they don’t feature African-Americans acting like coonish stereotypes. Because these films feature intelligent multi-dimensional humanized portrayals of African-Americans and don’t feature thugs, Black female victims and Black men in dresses portraying loudmouth gun-toting grammas, no one wants to see them.

If more of us brothers and sisters would go out of our way to support these independent filmmakers they would find a place in the market. They’d provide competition to Mr. Perry. In the face of that competition he wouldn’t be able to take his audience for granted and would be FORCED to step up his craft of storytelling and filmmaking.

You’re a Hater. This shaming tactic is used by Church ladies who have no answer to any of the facts presented to them. Unable to rebut your argument with facts, they just insult you.

If you think you can do better than Tyler Perry, Why don’t you go out and make a film.
Sure, if Shawn had two or three million dollars you’re gosh darn skippy Shawn would make a film. Would it be good? I don’t know. All I know is I’d put my best efforts towards giving the audience an entertaining story told in pictures and hope I’d meet the high standards of my novels and screenplays.

As a writer, I go out of my way to make sure that my storytelling meets a high level of quality before a book is submitted to the printer. I spend years researching to make sure even the most minute details are exactly correct when I’m revising a story. For books like The Temptation of John Haynes, I researched over a dozen corporations to learn about the day of a life of a CEO. I felt showing those little details would make the fiction more “real” to the reader when they read the story.

For a Story like A Recipe For $ucce$$, I researched everything from how bakeries run to the routines of a wedding. I studied product licensing extensively. I studied all the sides of the issue of Down Low Men so that the subject could be presented in an objective manner.

And when I write screenplays like All About Marilyn I studied the business side of Hollywood extensively. In addition to an entertaining story, I wanted to give readers a comprehensive understanding of how the entertainment industry worked.

I do all this research so the reader can immerse themselves into my world and suspend their disbelief. I know how one little detail being off can derail a reader’s imagination and take them out of the story.

I value my readers all over the world. And I value the support I get from the Black community. That’s why I try to make every effort to make sure my stories are the best quality. I want brothers and sisters to not only be entertained, but educated as well about the numerous cultures within the Black experience.

It really upsets me to watch guys like Tyler Perry take their audience for granted by offering them product that’s poor quality. I know African-Americans are starving for entertainment products featuring characters that look like themselves, but that’s no reason to take advantage of them as customers. I feel my brothers and sisters money is just as valuable as those White dollars and they deserve product that tries to meet some standard for quality. I feel Black people shouldn’t feel compelled to spend their hard-earned money on a product just because it’s made by a Black person.

I seriously wish I could compete with Tyler Perry in the film arena. I would love to adapt some of my stories and put Black actors to work at building their resume with projects that further their careers. Any project I involve myself in will be an experience where Black actors develop their existing skills and new actors work towards honing their craft. I feel everyone should come out of a Shawn James project with more skills than they had coming in.

Moreover, I’d like to produce a film where the Black viewer gets a rich multidimensional storytelling experience. I want Black viewers to see literary elements such as irony, foreshadowing and contrast. I want them to meet characters who are so rich and multilayered that they feel like real people, the kind you never forget. I feel it’s possible to entertain people and give them something that makes them think at the same time. I feel Black people deserve movies that challenge them, not pander to them.

I understand that many Black viewers are desperate to find media featuring images of themselves. And I’d like to provide them with something that stimulates their minds and inspires them to do better. 


  1. Facinating article, Shawn. I cringe so often trying to make sure I get facts right, and in spite of everything, some will be wrong. It's as if an evil genie comes out of a bottle when we begin our research. The only help for this is to have others tell us when we're wrong.


  2. none the viewers or you matters it like using a parable IT MAKES A POINT get what u need and give the rest away 90 % of most insights is not Facts its how u feel

  3. I disagree on one thing, though. Tyler Perry's movies cater to black women who make bad decisions, which is why they are his biggest audience. I'm sure the female character in Good Deeds got her military payout but like most black women, she blew it all and ended up evicted. As a matter of fact, didn't she forget about the eviction process and try to stop it the day of the eviction? What does this terrible movie get for all of her bad decisions? A rich Prince(ss) Charming.

  4. Thoughtful article...
    I'm on the fence. While not a TP fan, I support him on some level. I saw Good Deeds and some other films. My BIGGEST problem with him isn't his lack of perfection (MANY movies have plot holes, and unexplained details). My problem, or his problem I should say is the fact that he has the "do it all yourself" syndrome. It may have worked for him as a necessity being an indie artist (which he once was of course), but at this point there is no reason for someone of his caliber to write, produce, direct AND star in a movie. UNLESS you do all of them very well, your project (on that level) will suffer.

    I've done it as a filmmaker, but that was about being broke lol. I even edited, but I consulted with others. TP is not the best actor or writer, everything could be improved. I think his strength lies in producing, but hey it's just my opinion. He's telling his stories, so good or bad I can't be mad at that.

    I just try to worry about mine. Oh and Rocco, your comment about black women was, is, and will always be lame. SMH

  5. Actually because he died in a war zone, the soldier's widow would have received an extra 100,000 dollars.

  6. You're awesome Shawn Perry, and given the chance you could do better...and you would!!!