The Misrepresentation of Black Women in Tyler Perry’s Media

Actor, Screenwriter, Director, and Producer Tyler Perry is one of the most successful black creators in the media industry. He is well known for his creation of the Madea character and his representation of black people in his media. Starting off, black people were in love Tyler Perry’s work and how they were represented on screen. Overtime black people especially women have begun to detest how they are portrayed on screen. While the representation of black women in media is important, how they are represented is just as important. Tyler Perry has portrayed black women as broken, loud, abused, single, or in a struggling relationship since his first film Diary of a Mad Black Woman. This pattern can be detrimental to the black community and have an impact on how black women are perceived.

In Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself, lead character April (Taraji P. Henson) struggles with being a selfish alcoholic in an abusive relationship with a married man. Later in the film, her niece and two nephews are brought to her house n need of someone to take care of them, but April refuses. After the death of her mother, April has no choice but to take care of the children. A new man appears at April’s house to do work on it and live there in the process. April’s current boyfriend attempts to rape her niece and April attempts to electrocute him and puts him out of the house. Once this occurs, April becomes nicer to the kids, goes back to church, and falls in love with Sandino. April is a good example of how black women are stereotypically shown in Tyler Perry’s media. She’s loud, mean, struggling, abused, and in an unhealthy relationship. April would be considered a sapphire woman also known as an angry black woman. “The Sapphire Caricature portrays black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing.” (Pilgrim 2012) She’s also a perfect example of how Tyler Perry puts his black female characters through the wringer before they can experience happiness.

In Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Helen and Charles are a married couple that have a seemingly good life. As we get a deeper look into their relationship, we see that Charles is an abusive cheater. Charles is also the breadwinner of the house while Helen is unemployed. Charles continuously mistreats Helen and kicks her out the house. Later in the film, Charles is shot and depends on Helen to nurse him back to health while still mistreating her. Charles changes during that time and tries to make things right with Helen, but she instead gets engaged to another man. This is a great example of the struggle that Tyler Perry puts his black female characters through before they can be happy. Helen is jobless, broken, and abused until another man has to come along and save her from that.

In Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, Candace is portrayed as a stereotypical Jezebel in some ways. She is a struggling drug addict who also practices prostitution. Her struggles land her in jail as an old college friend who was originally her prosecutor does everything he can to get her out. They also end up a couple by the end. In the photo above, Candy is seen in court in an unappealing outfit with a matted wig. The photo alone says a lot about how Tyler Perry represents black women.

In Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, Lindsey is a single mother who cleans for Deeds corporation. She ends up getting evicted her daughter gets taken away from her. Like in the other movies, Lindsey gets saved by a man and is able to get her daughter back. Though she isn’t portrayed as a Jezebel or a Mammy, she’s still a black woman who has to struggle and get a bunch of assistance to get where she needs to be in life.

The first film called Acrimony that was written and directed by Tyler Perry plays on the angry black woman trope that depicts Melinda. A scorned ex-wife of a man whom she feels is indebted to her. Melinda plays into the “sapphire” stereotype of an angry black woman. Her character is very two-dimensional and plays on tropes of emphasized masculinity of black women with her insane rage and actions.

The next character which is one of the most prominent characters in Tyler Perry’s films is Madea who is played by Tyler Perry himself. Madea is a gunslinging, loud, and boisterous woman who often resorts to violence to get her way. Her breasts hang low, and she is based off of a combination of an angry black woman and mammy stereotypes which is evident in many of the films.

Lastly, Shirley from Madea’s Big Happy Family is a quiet, asexual, and peace-loving woman who everyone is calm around and is a very motherly figure. Her character plays on the stereotypical mammy trope and all these characters limit how the viewers see black women.

 Sabrina is portrayed as a Jezebel stereotype. She’s very loud and dressed in tight, promiscuous clothing, and uses her body to tempt Byron into mischief. Tyler Perry plays on all of these stereotypes and hasn’t produced a female character that deviates from these tropes but continues to perpetuate these false and limited narratives of black women.

Tyler Perry has made a plethora of films that highlight the struggle of black women. The same stereotypes seem to be recycled across films and misrepresent black women as a community. With not many films showcasing black women, it’s imperative to present the diversity of black women as a group and not reinforce stereotypes that continue to color the perspective of black women and perpetuate these harmful concepts on the black community.

Bibliography

Kenigsberg, B. (2018, April 3). ‘Acrimony’ a dysfunctional film about a dysfunctional marriage. Honolulu Star-Advertiser. https://www.staradvertiser.com/2018/04/03/tgif/acrimony-a-dysfunctional-film-about-a-dysfunctional-marriage/

  Jerald, M. C., Ward, L. M., Moss, L., Thomas, K., & Fletcher, K. D. (2017). Subordinates, Sex Objects, or Sapphires? Investigating Contributions of Media Use to Black Students’ Femininity Ideologies and Stereotypes About Black Women. Journal of Black Psychology, 43(6), 608–635. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798416665967

Madea’s Big Happy Family. (2011). Tyler Perry. https://tylerperry.com/tyler/archive/film/madeas-big-happy-family-2/

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