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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What is the appeal of Tyler Perry’s movies?

The final weekend numbers are in, and Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail is now confirmed to have sold an astonishing $41 million worth of tickets, down just a tad from Sunday’s estimated number of $41.1 million but still remarkable. (I’ll have my weekend box office roundup late this afternoon — I’m off to screenings this morning and into lunchtime — along with more of the mucho catching up I have to do.)

I hate to think it’s merely the dearth of black faces on movie screens that draws such enormous crowds to Perry’s flicks, but I can’t imagine another reason. Perry’s movies are not only crude and obvious, but — a far worse crime — they’re slapdash cinematic Frankenstein monsters that violate all sorts of rules of storytelling, not to make any kind of point or to break artistic new ground, but merely to cram as much into each movie as possible. Melodrama! Slapstick! Action! Romance! Perry’s movies are practically incoherent to anyone with an attention span greater than that of a gnat.

What am I not seeing? What is the appeal of Tyler Perry’s movies?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • t6

    I do think the fact that they are the only movies with black people in them can not be underestimated. Look at our Oscar movies this year…how many black people? Our blockbusters? How many black people?

    And One Will Smith/Denzel playing an everyman with and otherwise all white cast just really isn’t going to do it.

  • Come on now, it’s a dude dressed as a lady! What more do you need?

  • shoop

    While “rules” of storytelling have been bandied about and argued over for hundreds of years–Aristotle wasn’t really making rules when he came up with his “Poetics” (not even his title)–the idea of the necessity of “consistency” in stage storytelling is relatively new. (“Stage” is relevant here, since Perry’s work mostly originated onstage.) The popular theatre of the Western world was crammed with swordplay, songs, bawdy jokes, sincere prayer, melodrama–sometimes from scene to scene, and occasionally in the same scene. The appeal of Tyler’s work is, in many ways, similar to the appeal of Aristophanes–who could also be accused of “cramming” as much into his work as possible.

  • Bonnie in Texas

    Very, very simple.

    Good / god-fearing people always end up happily and bad / selfish people are put in their place.

    This is a very old, and very emotionally satisfying plot.

    Tyler Perry throws in a bit of everything – songs, humor, pathos, romance and social commentary, but it all hangs on “Good” vs “Evil” and his fans know that God and Medea will always prevail.

  • Ryan H

    You fail to grasp that a significant section of the movie-watching public has the attention span of a gnat. The people making these films know that, at most, they are going to remember nothing more than a few notable scenes after the film to yak about to their buddies. So the solution is to cram as many different scenes into the film and hope that something sticks in the mind of the viewer.

  • Having the “urban” perspective, as I have grown up in “the hood” and know many black people, the answer is simple, black people are much more forgiving in what they’re watching. Most of my black friends love terrible movies. One of my best friends in particular loves these films. That being said, the number that this movie made was not just from blacks going to the movies. So I think that you have to give some of that forgiving credit to the religious crowd because there are not religious themed movies with big production values, which explains why that stupid Kirk Cameron movie, I think it was called fireproof, did so well.

  • TrojanDawg2426

    I fully concur MaryAnn. What kills me is how so many people see these movies. He hasn’t made one DECENT film yet. His plays on the other hand are at least entertaining

  • Perryfan

    What you forget is that everyone has a right to express what they feel is a good movie or not. Half of the movies that the Academy think are so great are just plain terrible to me. The only movie I payed good money for and then ended up walking out on was an Oscar winner.

    Especially in this time of economic crisis, but also traditionally. Many people go to the movies for one reason: ENTERTAINMENT!

    The appeal of Tyler Perry movies is very simple.

    People want to laugh, people want to have some fun, people want to escape their troubles and realities for a couple of hours and end up feeling good when they leave the theater.

    Well that is the appeal of his movies. You actually have fun while watching. You often leave out of the theater with a smile on your face.

    It may not be amazing storytelling for some, but the feel good effect is truly PRICELESS!

    P.S. Seeing talented African-American actors and actresses that have had their talents ignored by Hollywood for so long is admittedly and added bonus.

  • amanohyo

    It’s important to remember that his audience is around 70% female, and a large percentage of those women are black women above the age of 40. Sure, they have short attention spans, but so does everyone else these days. Compare an old episode of the Simpsons to Family Guy or just track the downward trend in the average shot length in movies and tv programs.

    I’m not going to guess what it is exactly about these movies that’s so appealing to this demographic, but I’ve heard several say that they’ve felt neglected by the entertainment industry for a long, long time and that they’re turned off by the hedonism of modern hip hop culture.

    I mean movies about women are hard enough to find; you can literally count the movies about (or made for) black women on one hand. The crazy thing to me is that all these religious people are watching a man in drag, but many of them would condemn such a person in real life. The sad thing is that even a movie that’s ostensibly about the power of a woman is ultimately just another vehicle for a male comedian.

    He seems to genuinely believe he’s spreading God’s word with this fluff though, which is incredibly arrogant. I watched a little of his interview with Larry King, and he sounds like a nice guy who loved his mother so much he wanted to become her. He also seems to realize that his success is primarily the result of luck (or “being blessed” which is pretty much the same thing) and determination rather than talent.

  • I must admit, at first I didn’t like Tyler Perry’s movies… until I actually watched one and not only laughed, but saw the simple truths hidden beneath the surface.

    I’ve seen every one since, except for his latest (just haven’t had the time yet) and I enjoy watching a wide variety of films from many different genres. And his movies, don’t just speak to Black audiences, but also to various ethnic and socio-economic groups as well, including White movie goers.

    There’s always room for growth, but when you look at what he’s accomplished, you can’t deny his ability, determination, skill and willingness to grow in his craft of storytelling. Also, speaking of storytelling, different movies of different genres (and from different countries) use different methods of telling their stories that may be very different from the typical ‘western’ mode of communication.

  • Chris

    Western shmestern. Perry IS western, and his style is a very western one: lowest common denominator. He is NOT a genious, except in the sense that he continues to make money with the shlock he puts out.

    Why should I see a mediocre (at best) movie to see “simple truths?” I can see those same simple truths in films that don’t suck.

  • justawatcher

    I had this same conversation with a friend just a few days ago. I don’t necessarily like the “Madea” plays and movies except for one thing: Their all about having strength through faith that God will make a way out of the situation in which the characters may find themselves, with Madea playing the devil’s advocate for how “ungodly” people would handle themselves in the same situation. I believe that’s what creates the subliminal satisfaction that people feel, what makes them go back again and again “Madea”.

    Trying to insult the people that enjoy the “Madea” movies by saying they have the attention span of a gnat says more about you than about the movies. If you don’t like them, so be it; watch something else. If you don’t understand them, ask somebody. I have asked many of my white friends exactly what is it that has made Ben Stiller one of the hottest actors/directors/producers in Hollywood over the last 10years. To me, all of them, including “There’s Something About Mary” are sophomore male toilet humor films throughout. I only barely enjoyed “Night at the Museum” (on video)) because I watched it with my 4yr old grandson who is in a dinosaur phase right now.

    Personally, I prefer to see Tyler Perry in roles other than Madea. I loved him in “Why Did We Get Married”, and look forward to seeing more of him as the beautiful black man that he is.

  • willy allen

    Tyler Perry Is the Black Kevin Smith.

    Not one ounce of talent but is able to keep putting out the same old B.S. “Black Stuff”
    What is so new about Fat Black Women.
    They don’t make me laugh knowing the health risk they take.

    I have never seen any of Tyler’s movies or Television shows or Smiths for that matter and don’t need too.

    Tyler’s take on Blackness is simple Cookery

    That Said my Rent is Due.

  • My ex-girlfriend once talked me into watching a Tyler Perry movie on cable one night and as much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t totally dislike the experience.

    Would I see another one voluntarily? Probably not, but then I probably wouldn’t see another Will Ferrell movie again if I had a choice. (And the few I’ve seen have been in spite of Mr. Ferrell’s presence, not because of it.)

    Indeed, I can think of a lot of white-dominated movies that I don’t particularly care for and yet no one ever seems all that curious about whether we American movie-goers really need another Woody Allen movie or another “satire” of suburbia or another thinly-disguised “comic” soap opera about white middle-aged college professors.

    I know a lot of people who hated Burn After Reading and a lot of people who didn’t care for Little Miss Sunshine and I’m sure they’re just as bemused by the appeal of these movies as MaryAnn is by the Tyler Perry genre.

    But I forget: that’s different. ;-)

  • Andre Anderson

    The writer of this blog is a very ignorant woman. Look at the vast majority of movies being released always with white people. Nobody questions this what are black people supposed to do just watch white movies? I know this won’t sound politically correct but I am sick of white movies. I want to see movies with blacks IN THE LEAD. I want to see movies with blacks iN THE CENTER and not just be the token black person or the white chick’s best friend. Give me a break. Hollywood is so racist 99% of the movies are with whites. Sorry I can’t wait once a year for Will Smith, Halle Berry or Denzel Washington to make a movie. I want to see movies with blacks in the lead NOW.

    Perry is filling this void and Hollywood BETTER pay attention because his movies make SERIOUS MONEY.

  • JoshB

    The writer of this blog is a very ignorant woman. Look at the vast majority of movies being released always with white people. Nobody questions this what are black people supposed to do just watch white movies?


    How many Mexican actors can you name that have the box office draw of Will Smith, or Denzel Washington, or Halle Berry, or Morgan Freeman? Yeah, that’s right, you can’t name any, because they don’t exist.

    How many Mexican-centric movies have ever been made? Off the top of my I can name La Bamba, and that’s it.

    So watching shitty movies is your way of sticking it to the man? Grow up.

  • Muzz

    Not to split hairs, but surely most of Rodriguez’ ourve is pretty Mexican (or rather, latino, if that’s the right word) -centric even if not overtly so a lot of the time (ie the Spy Kids series).
    The exception that proves the rule, perhaps, but he’s worth a mention all the same.

    It’s occured to me slowly over the years that most people don’t really care what constitutes a ‘movie’ and have very different ideas of what a movie is allowed or supposed to do. Most of what makes up the ever refined goals of narrative and emotional realism of quality Hollywood tradition is pretty far down the list of most peoples standards (even if their favourites are exemplars of such traditions and wouldn’t work without them).
    I am stating the obvious there perhaps. But it’s ok for ‘black’ skewed films to be incoherent and preachy by our (movie nerd) standards if they’re amusing and say positive things (and not to put too fine a point on it, one can occasionally see interesting parallels between the ‘joke;rage;love’ waves often found in church sermons. Tenuous probably). That’s what a movie is supposed to have.
    Similarly in (I think) Punjabi ‘Bollywood’ films, if you don’t have a rubbish story with by the numbers romance (that reaffirms a lot of cultural mores) as an excuse for a lot of dance routines, for a good night out at the open air picnic, you haven’t made a ‘movie’ (and you should bugger off south and watch those weird Tamil movies with drama and things).
    And of course most white folks aren’t any better. I mean, people I know defend Transformers! Not nerds clutching their Optimus Prime with the paint worn off from all the years of said clutching. Regular folks. Reckon it’s great drama and action (not the tedious incoherent drivel that it absolutely is).
    So you get that everyday taste and mix in the US’s massive cultural split and you have the ‘urban’ comedy genre, to put it crudely. I even suspect that such flicks’ ‘style’ being not-like-white-movies might even be a source of misplaced pride.

    Anyway, getting away from the point. I haven’t seen any of the flicks in question. I do remember me and my junior hip hopper friends seeking out Kid n Play and pre Bad Boys Martin Lawrence videos back in the day. I remember them being fairly ok structurally, if silly and pausing for a few “remember kids, don’t do drugs” scenes here and there. Somehow all this incherence is Spike Lee’s fault.

  • thehoff

    I quickly read through some of the comments and most are pretty ignorant. The topic was what makes Tyler Perry’s movies appeal enough to garnish 41 million nationwide in this economic time. Its stupidity. Plain and simple. If people, black, white, latino, whomever, want to spend money on something that dumb, then they can. It’s their money. To me you’re just contributing to the US being increasingly stupid to put this type of entertainment above other areas of life. If this movie and the Hollywood Dog one gather this much money and viewers, it just shows the people’s intelligence. We’d rather watch this than read a book or pick up a hobby.

    On another note, how is a lady going to jail, if its humor or not, supposed to show Christian values he speaks about all the time? I’m a devout Christian and just don’t see the dots being connected.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love the rags to riches story of Tyler Perry. But the subject was, why his movies are so popular. For me its ignorance and stupidity, but then again, you’re entitled.

  • MaryAnn

    The appeal of Tyler’s work is, in many ways, similar to the appeal of Aristophanes–

    Yeah! And he’s like Shakespeare, too! See, Shakespeare had clowns *and* kings in the same play, therefore Tyler Perry is just like Shakespeare.


    The writer of this blog is a very ignorant woman. Look at the vast majority of movies being released always with white people. Nobody questions this what are black people supposed to do just watch white movies?

    Don’t pick on me, Andre. I’ve complained about how few good movies there are featuring non-white actors, and I’ve gone overboard praising the few good ones that do come along. (See, for example, my review of The Secret Life of Bees.)

    I want to see movies with blacks IN THE LEAD. I want to see movies with blacks iN THE CENTER and not just be the token black person or the white chick’s best friend.

    So do I, Andre. So do I. But I see no point in supporting shitty movies just because they feature black actors — or, just because they feature women. I want quality movies, and letting Hollywood get away with treating audiences like crap is not something we should be doing.

    If you don’t like them, so be it; watch something else. If you don’t understand them, ask somebody.

    I don’t watch them, justawatcher, but have a look around: this site is devoted to movies… and not just to the ones I personally like. And I thought what I had done here was precisely what you suggest I do: ask somebody to explain something to me.

  • I’ve seen exactly one Tyler perry movie and while it wasn’t my cup of tea, I stuck with it ’til the end. I won’t watch another one either unless its a case of being too polite to leave.

    I don’t watch Ben Stiller, or Will Ferrell, or Adam Sandler movies for the same reason. They aren’t my cup of tea.

    I want movies that:
    1) Treat me as an intelligent person who can see a plot line develop without having it narrated to me.
    2) Have characters that react like real people not ones who act in a pantomime fashion with quips and goofy expressions.
    3) Let me believe in the world that is being created without breaking the 4th wall and without forcing me to accept a mishmash of concepts.
    4) Entertains without compromising the dignity of the characters. Even buffoons like Mr. Bean and the Stooges have dignity.
    5) Don’t rely on a gimmick to sell me the story. I’d rather have a story or concept that I buy into. Even if it has a gimmick in it that enhances it.
    6) Has more than one way to experience it. If I watch a film and can’t look back on the film and find a second (or third) interpretation I’ll not watch it again because I’ve seen all there is to see.

    My favorite films have all:
    1) Surprised me at some point with a “wow!” moment.
    2) Been shared with someone else who saw something I didn’t.
    3) Been worth talking about (beyond “I Liked/Didn’t Like it”) with friends.
    4) Been hated by someone. Because if someone doesn’t hate it then it isn’t trying anything new.

    And that last one is why Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry aren’t worth watching to me. I can’t bring myself to hate their movies and I can’t bring myself to love them either. They are like vanilla ice cream. I’ll eat it, but I’d rather have chocolate.

  • What Tyler Perry has done – while being outside of the standard Hollywood system – is worth noting. Which is why Hollywood has come knocking on his door.

    And if you have never seen one of his movies, then a person really don’t have a basis for negative criticm. That being said… we are all entitled to have our own opinions.

    Once again – simple truths + comedy + confronting stereotypes + incorporating an aspect of drama and satire… this has worked well for Tyler Perry.

    Polls show that with the economy the way it is, people are looking for more things to make them laugh and help them deal with the pressures of life. This has also worked in Tyler Perry’s favor.

  • once again, i find myself asking: what “simple truths”? *whose* simple truths? and if they’re so damned simple, why do we need a 40 year old man in drag to tell us about them?

  • MBI

    I think Tyler Perry as a person appeals to people the same way Forrest Gump did. Here’s a simple country boy who made good, who never said an unkind word about anyone, who is powerfully sincere about those corny Christian values, and who accomplished all his success despite the handicap of being a complete idjit. As an artist, he has no talent and certainly no grasp of any complex ideas, but as a marketer he’s a genius who tapped into a large and neglected demographic.

  • Vinny Verducci

    You’ll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator. Tyler Perry is the black version of Larry the Cable Guy. Or is it the other way around?

  • Vinny Verducci

    “How many Mexican-centric movies have ever been made?”
    The Mexico Trilogy (El Mariachi, Desperado, Once upon a Time in Mexico), Just about any movie with Danny Trejo, Get the Gringo, Mi Familia, Blood In Blood Out, Born in East L.A., Stand and Deliver, Mi Vida Loca, Selena, Desierto, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Under the Same Moon, Days of Grace, We Are What We Are. Those are just what I can name off the top of my head. Of course I have an affinity for foreign films (and yes I know not all the films on my list are technically “foreign”) so maybe I am more likely to seek out films from/about other cultures. But seriously there are many films that are “Mexican-centric” out there if you look.

  • Bluejay

    Nine years later, except for the first sentence, this comment really holds up. I hope Andre is a little happier with the state of representation these days, although of course there’s always room for improvement.

    *impatiently counting down the days to Black Panther*

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