tyler perry. what you do to me.

tyler perry.

love his backstory: broke, homeless, an escapee from horrific childhood abuse, he chose to write. He wrote. He wrote eleven plays and toured them around the country. He found an audience, and a passionate audience, and he leveraged the loyalty of that audience to get a movie deal. His first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, cost $5.5 million dollars to make and grossed $50.6 million in box office receipts. Since that movie, Tyler Perry made eight more (Madea’s Family Reunion, Daddy’s Little Girls, Why Did I Get Married?, Meet the Browns, The Family that Preys, Madea Goes to Jail, and I Can Do Bad All By Myself) and grossed nearly $400 million dollars.

LOVE that.

love that he started in the the-ah-tah darling. How arty. You know I love The Artists.

love that he built an audience and leveraged their passion for his work into movie-making for the masses. I see analogies there. Ahem. Writing. Social media. Platforms. Influence. Audience. Passion. That’s all I’m a-saying.

love his fucking fearlessness. Tyler Perry recently wrote a wrenching email to his fans:

I’m tired of holding this in. I don’t know what to do with it anymore, so, I’ve decided to give some of it away…


Memories at 40: Not long ago, I was asked to speak at an engagement. I walked in and I was told that they had assigned a person to take care of me while I was there. She walked up to me, all of 5’2″ of her, and asked if I needed anything. I looked at her and started to sweat. It took me back thirty-something years to her apartment. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old when I went over to play with her son and Matchbox cars.


She opened the door in skimpy lingerie. There was a man sitting on the couch, smoking. She told me that her son was in the bedroom. I was there playing with him about 20 minutes when I heard the man arguing with her. He said he was leaving and slammed the door. She came into the bedroom and told me that I had to go home. She told her son to take a bath and she locked him in the bathroom. I was at the front door trying to get out, when she came in and laid on the sofa and asked me if I wanted the key. I told her I had to go home as it was getting dark. She put the key inside of herself and told me to come get it, pulling me on top of her.


Memories at 40: “What the f*#K are you reading books for?! That’s bull*#*T!”


“You F*#*ing jackass! You got book sense but you ain’t got no mothaf*#*en common sense! You ain’t sh*t and ain’t never gonna be sh*t!” I heard this every day of my childhood. As my father would beat and belittle me, he played all kinds of mind games with me. He knew I loved cookies as a kid, most kids do. So he would buy them and put them on top of the fridge and when I would eat them he would beat me mercilessly.


My mother was out one night, as she loved to play bingo, and my father came home…mad at the world. He was drunk, as he was most of the time. He got the vacuum cleaner extension cord and trapped me in a room and beat me until the skin was coming off my back. To this day, I don’t know what would make a person do something like that to a child. But thank God that in my mind, I left. I didn’t feel it anymore, just like in PRECIOUS. How this girl would leave in her mind. I learned to use my gift, as it was my imagination that let me escape. After he was done with his rant he passed out. Since my aunt lived two doors down, I ran to her. She saw me and was horrified. She loaded her 357 and went to kill him. Holding a gun to his head, her husband came and stopped her.


Memories at 40: I got a call not long ago from a friend. He told me that a man that I knew from church when I was a kid had died and he didn’t have any insurance. His family was trying to reach out to me to see if I would pay for his funeral. I quickly said no, but I wish I would have said yes.

There is something so powerful to me in burying the man that molested me.

I wish I would have dug the grave myself.


Memories at 40: I was about 8 or 9 years old. I had a crush on a little girl across the street. She would come over to my house and we’d play. She was about 12 or 13. One day she stopped coming and when I asked her why, she told me that my father was touching her. I didn’t believe her, so I talked her into staying one night. We were both asleep — she was in one bed and I was in another. I opened my eyes to see my father trying to touch her and her pushing him away. I moved in my bed trying to make him think I was waking up. He looked over at me and left out of the room. Not long after that, he beat me mercilessly for something again. Another mind game set up, so I told my mother what he had done. The blood drained from her face. We left that day. We were at my Aunt’s house and he came there about 1am. Not long after that we were back at home. Nothing would compare to the random, drunken, violent beatings I would receive from then until I was 19.


Memories at 40: We would spend the summers in the country, with my father’s adoptive mother. As a kid I was always sick. I had asthma and he hated it. He hated that I wasn’t strong and viral like him. He hated that I couldn’t be in the sawdust, pollen and the raw lumber like him. He hated that I liked to read and write and draw. He hated that me and my middle sister were darker-skinned than him. He didn’t think he could make a dark baby. He just hated everything about me I guess. Anyway, I had to go to the doctor every Tuesday to get shots to control my allergies. When his mother found out she said, “Ain’t nothing wrong with that damn boy…he just got germs on him. Stop wasting all that money.” When my mother left to visit some friends I heard what sounded like water running in a tub but it was sporadic. She came and got me out of the living room leaving my Matchbox cars on the floor. She said she was going to kill these germs on me once and for all. She gave me a bath in ammonia.


Grateful at 40: I was asked recently how I made it through all of this, (half has not even been told) and my answer to that is…I know for a fact that there is a GOD. When my father would say or do those things to me, I would hear this voice inside of me say, “That’s not true” or, “Don’t believe that” or, “You’re going to make it through this”. I didn’t know at the time what “it” was, but today I surely have no doubt that “it” was GOD. That voice always gave me comfort. It allowed me to hold on. It kept me from being strung out on drugs, from dying when I wanted to commit suicide. It kept me from being a gang banger or drug dealer. Worse than all of those things put together, it kept me from being him. It brought angels to comfort me after every foul, harsh word or every welt on my legs or back. GOD, only GOD.

so. Tyler Perry. He’s brave. He’s real. He tells it. He wrote his way out of poverty and pain. What’s not to love?

errr…the movies? I’ve only seen two. I laughed awkwardly and I wished that I didn’t and wished for more of a, well, craft and so no, I don’t love them. They kinda make me wonder when Martin Lawrence is gonna show up.

they make me itchy. they make me wonder why big ostensibly ‘black’ films often feature black men in dresses. Dave Chapelle – and by no means am I suggesting that he’s a thought leader – wonders about this too. He thinks it is a conspiracy by the white Hollywood establishment to publicly disempower and humiliate successful black actors. Or at least I think that’s what he thinks. He was a bit incoherent and twitchy when I saw this on Oprah so I may be filling in the blanks.

I don’t have a problem with incoherent and twitchy. I actually appreciate it. It leaves lots of space for interpretation.

I don’t have a problem with drag, either. But it does make me wonder why we apparently need to see rich, powerful black men in dresses.

this in turn makes me pause to note that if putting a man in a dress is a way to humiliate him, then my god it must be humiliating to be an actual woman. [Note: I am a woman.]

so then I worry that – despite the fact that Tyler Perry identifies with strong black women – maybe his films mock women. Then I wonder what are his movies really saying about women. or gender. or sexual orientation. or or or.

and I wonder ’bout all the bitch-slapping of Tyler Perry. I worry about my casual use of the term bitch-slapping because it is painfully accurate here which makes it all the more violent and disconcerting. I mean, think about what ‘bitch-slapping’ means and the context from whence it springs. Pimps controlling ‘their’ bitches. The ubiquitious naming – by everyone, it seems – of black women as bitches. Again, the allusion to feminization and feminized abuse makes it all the more humiliating to inflict on a man. I just did it now.

I worry when people start tearing down a rich, famous powerful black man. I wonder what that’s all about. (Actually, I don’t wonder what that’s all about.) I’m not even cool with dissing Kanye for being a jackass unless you’re Obama because otherwise it degenerates into the N word PDQ. I even worry about Michael Vick. Lots of times people are just waiting for a reason to bitch out a successful black man. And there’s the word bitch again.

I worry that to diminish a black man we put him in a dress.

I worry that to be made or compared to a woman is to be diminished.

I worry that this kind of man/woman discussion reinforces notions of gender and sexuality that are problematic and constraining and oppressive and the mofo problem in the first place.

I worry that I’m only worrying about gender ‘cuz I’m a white woman and that’s my thing. We’re hundreds of words into this essay and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Spike Lee draws a direct line from minstrel shows to Tyler Perry’s movies that engage in and perpetuate stereotypes of “coonery and buffoonery“.

then I worry that I’m not dealing with the black thing because the only form of oppression I understand is gender and then I wonder, how the fuck am I going to champion my black, biracial babies if I don’t make sense of black means and what black is constructed to mean and the histories of the images I consume?

so a twitter debate that morphed into a most excellent rant by Damian J. Denson (@HypnotiqOne) rocked my world. It is not the only answer, but it is good.

Gotta luv|Hate w Perry but this T[hanks]giving his work will undoubtedly B screened by my fam. They will laugh & cry. I cant complain.So keep making your movies, Mr. Perry.

and thank goodness for everyone stepping up to start and have this conversation. Thanks to Tyler Perry. To his audience. To Spike Lee, the intellectuals and elitists and their critics, too. To Damian J. Denson. Well said.

and Precious. Can’t wait to see it. So glad Tyler Perry is famous and makes wacks of cash and can throw it behind a movie like this.

love that he did.

you can find Damian J. Denson on twitter as @HypnotiqOne. I wish I wrote his bio:

Damian J. Denson. Professional Proselytizer. Freelance Writer. Cultural Critic. Doctoral Candidate. Mama’s Boy. Scene Stealer. Your Lucky Charm.


About the author

Kelly Diels I'm Kelly Diels. I'm a writer. I've written for Salon, Jezebel, XO Jane, Problogger, Write to Done and more. I'm currently working on a book about The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Interested? Please subscribe to my newsletter and I'll share more thoughts and chapters with you as I write them. You can also find me on Facebook and yes please, please do.