Tyler Perry’s Gay Problem

Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? shocked

absolutely no one by placing a strong #2 in last weekend's box office battle with

a $30 million dollar take, but what was shocking and surprising to me was one

very blatantly homophobic scene in the movie, as well as the history of stereotypically homophobic

elements to Perry's movies that haven’t yet been thoroughly examined.

If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, be warned there

are heavy spoilers ahead.

The last third of the movie finds

Janet Jackson’s Dr. Particia Agnew and her husband Gavin (Malik Yoba) engaged

in a bitter divorce that gets increasingly ugly due to his battle for half of

the royalties from her book sales.

In retaliation, she attempts to

humiliate him by bringing an enormous birthday cake to his office and

presenting it to him and all of his coworkers filled not with a stripper, but

with a flamboyantly gay black man dressed in a miniskirt and neon-colored wig

who pops out of the cake in a spray of glitter and gyrates suggestively

while It’s Raining Men plays in the background.

I’m not making this up, Tyler Perry did. The

point of contention here is not that the gay man in question is in drag or

effeminate, but that he is used as an over the top spectacle to challenge the

masculinity of a character perceived as acting outside of masculine norms by

claiming entitlement to his wife’s earnings.

Janet Jackson and Malik Yoba in Why Did I Get Married Too?

What makes a bad situation even

worse is that during this man‘s “performance,“ Jackson’s character is screaming

a litany of homophobic remarks toward her husband along the lines

of (and I’m paraphrasing only slightly)

“If you want to be a bitch, here you go!” and “Here’s your bitch!”

So, for all of us who are keeping

score, gay men are: outrageously feminine, objects of scorn and ridicule for

respectable heterosexuals, and freaks that can be used to make an embarrassing

public spectacle out of one’s enemy. Yep, got it.

Due to a well-documented history

of general awesomeness surrounding gay folks, I’m inclined to give Ms. Jackson

a pass on this, but Mr. Perry gets no such luck. In fact, this is only the

latest example of homophobia I’ve noticed in his movies.

The original Why Did I Get Married was a

similar-sized box-office hit that also had its own share of questionable

portrayals of gays. In a very brief scene near the beginning, a flamboyant

older white gay couple (dressed in pink, no less) is seen giving attitude to

Tasha Smith’s firecracker of a character Angela. Her reaction to the two, while

not as blatantly homophobic as the treatment of the lone gay presence onscreen

in the sequel, portrays yet another takedown of obviously gay characters for

the desired approval of Tyler Perry’s predominantly African-American,

churchgoing audience.

But Perry can be an equal opportunity offender. His movie Madea

Goes to Jail featured - what else - a big, butch, tattooed lesbian hell

bent on “claiming” the pretty young inmate and prostitute played by Cosby

kid Keisha Knight Pulliam. I’ll leave

the irony of a man who made his fortune by dressing in drag trading in

offensive images of gays in his movies up to others comment on.

What I will say is that once is

curious, twice is upsetting, but three times borders on pathological, and it

leads one to wonder why Perry feels the need to include such deeply negative

and stereotypical images of gays in his movies.

Of course, Perry’s movies are

predominantly made for the aforementioned African-American, churchgoing

audience, but believe me when I tell you that there is a sizable fan base of

gays of all colors who are fans of his movies for their absurd melodramatic

shock value alone. It's true that the films themselves are mostly badly

written and stiffly-acted morality tales with lessons right out of Sunday

School, plot twists telegraphed in strokes so broad a toddler could see them

coming, and characters who lack the depth to be one-dimensional.

But the camp value of these movies is

off the charts, made even more so by the fact that the product isn’t delivered

with a John Waters-style wink, but with the stone-faced determination and

gravity of a mediocre talent determined to "Make A Point" with all the subtlety

of a fist going into a cheating wife’s face (2008’s The Family that Preys).

The end result can actually be

quite delicious, especially when he corrals people who should really know

better (Angela Bassett, Viola Davis, Kathy Bates) into these hot messes, and

especially when a pro like Kathy Bates delivers her lines with a gleam in her

eye that suggests she knows exactly the kind of trash she’s participating in.

Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard in The Family That Preys

That said, when I’m ripped out of the trashy fun of his

movies by the ugliness of scenes like the drag-queen-stripper-in-a-cake scene.

I can only wonder why Perry feels the need to ruin the guilty pleasure of his

movies with such blatant and mean-spirited homophobia. There have been thorough

takedowns of the messages in Perry’s movies written from many

perspectives and I‘ll be shocked if this is the first gay one, but what they

all boil down to is that Perry is simply giving the audience what they


By serving these images up to an audience all too ready and

willing to receive them, he‘s playing into an idea of homophobia and gays that

has its roots in the church. For all of his movies’ moralizing and faith-based

messages about being a Good Christian, audiences are told through this imagery

that it is okay to ridicule the few deeply stereotypical gays that he allows

into his inner sanctuary of representation onscreen.

Of course, homophobia is not something that is exclusive to

the Black community. African-American moguls like Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks

are aware of the perception of heightened homophobia within it, and choose to

fight that perception and enlighten the same target audience with positive and

multidimensional portrayals of the LGBT community in their various

projects. They are aware of the power of

the images they’re broadcasting to the masses.

Perry is as well, and that‘s the problem. To present homophobic imagery and language to

a specifically targeted heterosexual, churchgoing African-American audience

reeks of a filmmaker’s intent that is insidious and quite disturbing.

Whether I’ll see another of Tyler Perry’s movies is

something I cannot answer. My enjoyment of them, much like my enjoyment of Why

Did I Get Married Too?, was stopped dead in its tracks by the ugliness of

the scene and the general creepiness of the homophobic elements within it.

The decision to include this gay man in drag, this

image to a predominantly African-American audience is indicative of a man

who has the power to present images of themselves to an audience that is

starved for representation and instead chooses to use that power to further

marginalize gay members of that community who are already on the fringes.

Whether Tyler Perry is giving his audience what they want or

what he thinks they want is up for debate, but in the future I just may

be averting my eyes to whatever he has to offer.

Latest News