We had a brief discussion about Tyler Perry films in class this week and the main focus was on the racial ideas presented in his films. However, Tyler Perry also presents some strong gender ideas as well. In Why Did I Get Married? (2007), a film about four married couples who are lifelong friends, the husbands play the antagonist.
From left to right: Diane and Terry, Gavin and Pat, Sheila, Mike, and the sassy Trina, and Marcus and Angela.
Marcus has had an affair and can’t hold a job. Terry (played by Tyler Perry) is unhappy about his wife’s powerful career as a lawyer. And finally, there’s Mike. Mike has always been verbally and physically abusive of his wife Sheila. The couples are preparing to go on an annual couple’s retreat to Colorado. Mike invites his mistress, Trina. When Mike, Trina, and Sheila board their flight, Sheila discovers she is too heavy to fit into one seat and the flight attendant says they will have to buy an extra ticket. Mike declines this offer and forces Sheila to drive to Colorado alone. Three of these husbands are hurting their partners. Something holds Tyler Perry back from presenting all of the men as bad. Gavin, who plays the husband of Pat (Janet Jackson) is a good guy. After recently losing their baby, Gavin constantly remains supportive and open during his grief while Pat shuts herself off from him and immerses herself in work. Another positive male role is Troy who is Sheila’s knight in shining armor, literally and figuratively. When Sheila makes it to Colorado there’s a brutal snowstorm. She stops at a police station to ask for help and Troy tells her she’ll have to wait till morning and he’ll drive her up the mountain. Troy also feeds her and gives her a warm place to sleep for the night. Troy ends up being the man who shows Sheila that she is beautiful and deserves to be treated with the respect that her husband Mike has denied her for so many years. In the sequel, Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010), the roles are reversed and women play the antagonist. Diane has an affair with another lawyer, Pat wants a divorce and refuses any kind of settlement with Gavin, and Angela is a raving lunatic who stalks Marcus’s every move. Still, Perry refrains from depicting all of the women as negative. Sheila, who is now married to Troy, is constantly supportive of him even when he cannot find work. Sheila also is there for Mike, who has been diagnosed with cancer, and takes him for his chemotherapy treatments (this almost serves as a negative depiction because it appears that Sheila is having an affair with Mike). What do Tyler Perry movies, especially these, say about gender? Why does he choose not to depict all of the men in the first film as bad (same with women in the second film)? Is he simply trying to portray the reality of marital situations (particularly spouses) gone awry, while still providing a silver lining, or is there something more to it?