Filmmaker and Culture Provocateur Spike Lee Famously Held

Tyler Perry is no stranger to criticism. Filmmaker and culture provocateur Spike Lee famously held a grievance toward Perry, saying that he reinforced racial stereotypes. Perry is also often accused of hating Black women, selling out Black women, and trafficking in tropes that mostly demean Black women. Most of these complaints center on his Madea character, which Perry bombastically plays in drag, a combination of his mother and favorite aunt–two women who had a huge impact on him. But all the criticism misses how much he has done in the continuing fight for representation.

Historically, Black men in drag have been problematic. In a world in which Black men are often emasculated, the practice of dressing in drag comes across as a self-induced wound. The practice wouldn’t be as detrimental if there were better representation of Black men in the movies and on TV. The fact that Perry has leaned so hard into the practice is seen at best as detrimental and at worst a betrayal.

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However, if you look beyond the fact that Perry has earned a billion dollars mostly from laughs generated by putting on a dress and pretending to be an overly loud and playfully obnoxious matriarch figure, you’ll see that he has very slyly and cleverly positioned himself on the front lines of the fight for diversity in Hollywood, and has centered and highlighted stories of Black women throughout his career. As the creator and producer of a different MCU (the Madea Cinematic Universe), Perry has produced a shocking amount of content in a relatively short amount of time celebrating stories that Hollywood often ignores.

The mogul who built his own production complex, on a former Confederate military base in Atlanta, just to add even more brazen context to the situation, has directed 23 feature films and created multiple scripted series.

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At the center of nearly every movie and TV show Perry cranks off of his assembly-line is a Black woman. Perry consistently hires Black women of all hues, ages, and sexual orientation. He invites cinematic legends, A-list movie stars, Oscar winners, R&B superstars, high-profile comedians, and up-and-coming social media influencers to his cinematic parties.

Hip hop mogul and sometime rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs famously once said, “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks.” That pretty much sums up Perry who is constantly providing Black women not only with opportunities to shine on screen and on TV but a livelihood. Perry writes checks and lots of scripts. The script writing has also been a point of contention as Perry is often condemned for being a man who writes so many stories about the female experience. Perry always defends his tactic by stating how he was raised and heavily influenced by his mother and favorite aunt, allowing their voices to come through in his work.

Perry is a hands-on filmmaker who tightly controls his cinematic empire. He works fast, mostly with moderate budgets. Yes, his films usually turn a profit, but Perry has demonstrated limited range with his storytelling abilities. When he has ventured off his usual path the results have been mixed at best.

For Perry’s audience, seeing themselves out weighs the quality of his productions, and that’s reflected in his critical reception. Perry’s aesthetic isn’t crafted for white men who are mostly disconnected from the culture that Perry allows to shine on screen. Even the Black film critics that sharply attack usually do so from an intellectual perch that just doesn’t matter to his audience. It’s not about reviews and everything about the affirmation of seeing yourself represented.

Black women are underrepresented when it comes to being cast in movies and on TV shows. Despite the huge sums of money spent on this research, effectively nothing has changed. The status quo has remained the same since the creation of Hollywood.

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