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  •  White Critics & The Works Of Tyler Perry (8+ / 0-)

    The A.V. Club has an interesting article about how critics approach Tyler Perry's work that asks the question of whether white critics have apprehensions calling Perry's films crap?

    But before I can get into it, a bit of a warning. One of the main issues of the article deals with a major plot point from Perry's latest film; 'Temptation.' So if you don't want to know spoilers for the movie, stop right here.

    Tyler Perry's 'Temptation' goes down some familiar territory for anyone who's ever watched a Lifetime move or a soft-core porn film centered around an unsatisfied wife who finds comfort in the arms of other men. However, the film's ending has a disturbing subtext.

    'Temptation' concludes with a troubling epilogue in which Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is seen in a pharmacy owned by her ex-husband Brice (Lance Gross). She’s there picking up her HIV medication, which she must now take after cheating on Brice with a man who infected her. Brice has since remarried a more virtuous Christian woman who loves him for his goodness—which apparently includes offering deep discounts on his ex-wife’s HIV meds, because I can’t imagine why else Judith would subject herself to this indignity rather than Googling the nearest Walgreens.

    Mike Ryan of The Huffington Post was the first to seize on the film’s awful implication: HIV is a disease that infects the immoral, and Judith deserves her infection because she cheated on her husband. Ryan writes, “Either Perry believes that if you cheat on your partner, you deserve a terrible disease or he believes that the people he hopes will pay money to see Tyler Perry’s Temptation believe that if you cheat on your spouse, you deserve a terrible disease. I can’t decide which is worse.” Louis Peitzman of BuzzFeed wrote his own takedown, which acknowledges Ryan’s piece and builds on it by dissecting Perry’s prior use of HIV as a narrative weapon in 2010’s For Colored Girls: “By offering a version of reality in which people are either Good or Evil, Tyler Perry’s soapbox may do more harm than good.” Lindy West of Jezebel contributed another outraged missive shortly thereafter: “I’m starting to believe that Tyler Perry isn’t just artless—he’s reprehensible.”

    The A.V. Club article argues that in Perry's previous films there's just as much to criticize & be outrage about as in 'Temptation,' but that some white media critics seem to feel they needed the shield of criticizing sexism & ignorance about HIV infection to openly go after the subtext of Perry's work, which is closely identified as "black entertainment."
    In March 2009, EW ran a reported piece about growing discomfort in the black community with Perry’s rise to prominence, and in doing so, deferred to black critics of his work, looking to them for the reactions that white critics like Gleiberman seem to have been internalizing all along. The EW story about the Perry backlash was vital, because as white critics have furiously massaged their insults into something that sounds sort of complimentary, or at least ambivalent, criticism of Perry has been left to black critics and academics whose work doesn’t have the wide reach that mainstream white critics command, or the same ability to shape the dialogue about a film. But while it’s clear that white critics have been derelict in their gatekeeping duties where Perry’s work is concerned, it’s equally clear why.

    Years ago, I briefly met Robert Bianco, USA Today’s longtime television critic, at the Television Critics Association Press Tour. I mentioned his blistering 2007 review of Perry’s maiden voyage into television, Tyler Perry’s House Of Payne, which he called the worst sitcom of the modern era. I told him I appreciated his candor, and he thanked me for saying so, because he said he was inundated with complaints and comments from Perry fans who attacked him, saying his whiteness put him out of touch with the cultural nuances that would allow him to properly enjoy Perry’s work. He was resolute in his opinion that House Of Payne could very well be a harbinger of the end times, but he also seemed like he might just as soon have not written anything, knowing what a headache it would become. In short, Bianco was told Perry’s work was a black thing, and that he wouldn’t understand.

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