Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Things I Learned about Tyler Perry While Being Interviewed by Mo’Nique

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black WorldScholarship in Action 

I watched Tyler Perry last night on the Mo’Nique Show on BET.  It was an interesting interview, with Mo’Nique fawning over Tyler’s brilliance in the way you would expect an actress to kiss up to one of the most powerful filmmakers in the world.  I fully expect that Mo’Nique will get some coveted roles in future Tyler Perry films.

With that said, I noticed a few things about Tyler’s personality, which might explain a bit about his recent blow-up with fellow black filmmaker Spike Lee:

1) Tyler is very sensitive.  Perry seems to be the kind of person who feels things and responds to them.  I imagine that Spike’s criticism (coming from a New Yorker, who’s used to people speaking their mind and being rude about it) actually hurt Perry’s feelings.  Southerners often have a difficult time dealing with the abrasive nature of many New Yorkers, and I imagine that Tyler’s nasty responses to Spike’s comments are a reflection of that cultural difference.  In other words, Southern folks value politeness, which Spike didn’t offer Perry in the least.

2) Tyler is very humble.  I’ve rarely seen a man so accomplished display so much humility.  Tyler truly seems to remember what it was like to struggle his way to the top and shows a degree of compassion for others that I rarely see from Hollywood megastars.   He spoke of his mother like she was an angel, and talked about his employees like they were his family.  He has a strong sense of community and cares deeply for his fellow man/woman, and for that he should be commended.  This humility seems to play a role in Perry’s decision to share his frustrations with the world, rather than fighting behind closed doors to keep the “little people” out of the conversation. 

3) Tyler is very honest.  Tyler is not the type of brother to beat around the bush.  He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and his “go straight to hell” remark toward Spike is likely a function of the fact that he doesn’t enjoy pretending to like someone that he despises.  I can understand Perry’s disposition, for I am the same way.  Although Spike’s critique of Tyler has some degree of validity, Spike’s approach could certainly have been more productive.  There’s no need for two of the most powerful black filmmakers in Hollywood to go at it in such an ugly and malicious way.

4) Tyler is very strong.  Tyler might be sensitive and humble, but “he ain’t no punk.”  There’s a reason Perry rose to the top and dominates his profession.  He’s an intense, focused, determined workaholic who will not allow himself to be bullied by any person or any situation.  So, rather than being quiet and diplomatic in the midst of Spike’s attacks, Tyler made it clear that Spike should not mistake his kindness for weakness.  Beneath the polite southern boy demeanor lies a beast who will only let you push him so far.

Bottom line: I think more like Spike Lee, but I have more respect for Tyler Perry.  Spike should be working to educate and uplift, not to simply criticize and destroy.  Tyler has hired more black people than all of Hollywood put together; that’s GOT to count for something.  So, while we must hold Tyler accountable for the implications of his message, we must do so in a way that fully factors in the magnitude of his contribution.  In other words, the brother’s work isn’t all that bad.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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