Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tyler Perry is a genius

It’s a familiar pattern by now: Tyler Perry releases a low-budget movie. Said movie shoots straight to the top of the box office charts. Mainstream media outlets and white America in general express befuddlement and borderline outrage at the consistent popularity of a movie series starring a large black man with a penchant for dressing as an elderly woman.

I have never seen a Tyler Perry movie. I probably never will, as the ad campaigns for films like Madea Goes to Jail and Daddy’s Little Girls give me heartburn. (I did catch a few minutes of the Perry-produced sitcom House of Payne once, and it made me yearn for the subtle nuances of Damon Wayans’ My Wife and Kids.) Regardless, I have no problem with Mr. Perry doing what he does, because he’s very good at doing something very few people have ever attempted to do.

There is an entire black cinematic world that goes unnoticed by the majority of media outlets and white audiences. A few years back, I worked as an assistant manager at a ghetto theater in New Orleans, and I was amazed to see how enthusiastically our customers embraced movies that were specifically created for and marketed to black audiences. We’d get decent turnouts for general audience movies with a black lead – Training Day or Black Knight, say – but our biggest responses were usually for low-budget films with a mostly black cast, like Bones or All About the Benjamins. We were the only theater in town that didn’t have sellouts when the first Harry Potter movie hit the theaters, but The Wash – starring Snoop and Dre as troublemaking car wash attendants – played to a packed house all that same week. Even though those movies barely registered on the national consciousness, they were regarded as modern classics by our audience.

I think what Tyler Perry understands is that a lot of black moviegoers are sick of being written off as irrelevant by the major studios and are glad throw their support behind a film that acknowledges their existence. Up until now, most of the movies that did that were ‘hood flicks like Baby Boy, lowbrow comedies like the Friday series or adult-themed dramas like The Woods. Perry’s movies have had a bigger cultural impact than any of those because he’s one of the first filmmakers to make a specific appeal to black audiences with films that can be seen by the whole family.

It’s the same reason that so many mediocre kiddie flicks do huge business at the box office – a lot of moviegoers value safety over quality. I doubt many adults strolled out of Paul Blart: Mall Cop believing they’d just seen an hour-and-a-half of classic comedy, but that hasn’t stopped Kevin James and crew from racking up more than $100 million in box office grosses. Family-oriented viewers feel so neglected by Hollywood that they’re often willing to accept mediocrity. Perry’s hit on a formula that appeals to two underserved segments at the same time, and he’s riding that train all the way to the bank.

My personal tastes may cause me to question the artistic merits of Perry’s productions, but I have to give the man major props as a marketer. When it comes to finding a need and filling it, he comes pretty close to genius. Maybe someone will eventually do it with more style or depth, but until that day comes, Tyler Perry will remain the well-deserved king/queen of the box office.

- Ira Brooker

(This entry inspired by a comment thread at my favorite site, The A.V. Club)


  1. Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail (2009) is a well made entertaining movie so many people have seen it on free movies http://www.80millionmoviesfree.com and also lot of with the internet, I think because it was a comedy many have seen it, it was a different movie what I like about Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail (2009) is that the enthusiasm in the movie to keep company with the viewers

  2. I don't even mind getting spam comments such as the above, so long as they're related to the content of my posts. But how come Tyler Perry drew in the spambots and Knut Hamsun didn't?