Friday, September 24, 2010

Open Letter To Tyler Perry

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

Dear Tyler Perry,

I hope you are doing well because I really don’t want to even write this letter. I’ve actually delayed in writing you because I really do love writing and sending letters and fun things in the mail to my friends. As my homegirl Erika Lopez wrote in her book Flaming Iguanas: “It’s almost love, and sometimes it really is love. It means someone thought of you for more than the fifteen seconds it took to dial your number and leave the message for you to call them back.” Snail mail is a dying form of media and I seek to keep it going for as long as I can!

And I want to be clear that I don’t love you in the ways that the mail I send often transmits to its recipients. I do love you as a man of Color who is a survivor and a media maker. I don’t love the media that you make. It’s just not the media I need in my life to help me find affirmation, support, courage, and a desire to continue the work I am doing. I do find in your media more work for me to do. I’ve used some of your films in conversations, yet often those conversations are to deconstruct and critically examine the manipulation of gender, race, class, ethnicity, location, religion and choice as presented in your films.

So let me be clear: Please don’t (continue to) misuse your power. You’ve built an empire in the institution of “Hollywood” which is rare and a huge accomplishment. There is a lot of power that you have and whether you like it or not, that means that you may have power over people too. In building your empire (and history has shown us that “every empire eventually cease to be” as the Welfare Poets noted on their track “Color Me Red”), you’ve created what my homegirl Sparkle has called a “one stop shop.”

Unfortunately, the choices that one stop shop has made have been less than exceptional. I mean the posters for the film are horrendous! And why did you make the decision to have all the characters have their hair straightened (minus Whoopi who wears a head scarf for what seems to be the entire time)? For WHY?

When I thought about completing the writing of this letter it was because I began to reread a book that I did not enjoy on my first read: Avery Gordon’s “Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination.” Gordon writes about the idea of complex personhood and it really helped me to figure out why the work you do is important to so many people. As my homegirl Aiesha, aka Super Hussy, mentioned several months ago on Twitter (I’m paraphrasing): “Tyler Perry films fill a specific need for some people.” She describes complex personhood as the following:

“complex personhood is the second dimension of the theoretical statement that life is complicated. Complex personhood means that all people (albeit in specific forms whose specificity is sometimes everything) remember and forget, are beset by contradiction, and recognize and misrecognize themselves and others. Complex personhood means that people suffer graciously and selfishly too, get stuck in the symptoms of their troubles, and also transform themselves. Complex personhood means that even those called ‘Other’ are never never that. Complex personhood means that the stories people tell about themselves, about their troubles, about their social worlds, and about their society’s problems are entangled and weave between what is immediately available as a story and what their imaginations are reaching toward. Complex personhood means that people get tired and some are just plain lazy. Complex personhood means that groups of people will act together, that they will vehemently disagree with and sometimes harm each other, and that they will do both at the same time and expect the rest of us to figure it out for ourselves, intervening and withdrawing as the situation requires. Complex personhood means that even those who haunt our dominat institutions and their systems of value are haunted too by things they sometimes have names for and sometimes do not. At the very least, complex personhood is about conferring the respect on others that comes from presuming that life and people’s lives are simultaneously straightforward and full of enormously subtle meaning” (p. 4-5).

So in the spirit of complexity, I’m trying to meet you where you are at, or where you allow me to meet you at.

There have been many people in my life who have written about you and what you are doing and I see no need to redo what has already been done. I do want to thank you for at least two things: recognizing that people of Color, especially Black people’s stories are important and valuable. I also thank you for reminding me that I must embrace completely texts that changed my life and the life of so many people I surround myself with on a regular basis. “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Was Enuf” is a text and piece of art I used to teach and now I’m going to continue to do so because it’s important for everyone to be exposed to the artifact and let it speak to them on their terms versus having the text constructed for them in a particular way.

Power with, not power over.


For those of you who have yet to see the trailer for this film check it out below:

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