Tyler Perry Breaks The Silence

You may know Tyler Perry from many of the films he’s produced, directed, and starred in over the years. It seemed like every year I would see a new Tyler Perry movie coming out of the box office. I can’t say that I have seen any of them, though he is a clear success story being one of the highest paid men in Hollywood.

Tyler Perry - Survivor

What I did see on 60 Minutes recently was the startling admission that, like myself, he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. The reason why this is shocking isn’t that he IS a survivor of abuse. The statistics show indeed how common abuse is in our culture, with 1 in 4 women being victims of abuse before the age of 16 and 1 in 6 men.

What is of note is that Tyler Perry is a high profile black man admitting that he was abused as a child. It’s the coming out that has always been hardest for us men. One of the basic virtures of early manhood is being able to successfully defend yourself from harm. For male victims it is this perceived failure that is sometimes the hardest thing to come to terms with.

Tyler is coming to terms with this specter that has hovered over his life for so long. He spoke of a friends mother who molested him as a child. She locked him in their house and only provided the key to leave if he ‘had sex’ with her. Tyler later shared additional details about living with a physically abusive father. After his admission, his father passed along the message to Tyler that “…If I had beat your ass one more time you probably would have been Barack Obama.”

You may be horrified by that comment. Yet, its so telling of how parents so often confuse discipline with outright abuse. Or maybe it’s just his fathers way of rationalizing the abuse and suffering he inflicted on his defenseless children.

These admissions from public figures are inspiring and courageous but to people who want to make real change in our society we can’t leave it at that. We have to explore the questions raised by the personal accounts from survivors of abuse.

I was always a big fan of the comedian Richard Pryor growing up. He would often compare men with women, and how black culture differed from white culture. He once mentioned quite fondly about the time his father gave him an especially violent physical beating because he came home after his curfew. The audience laughed. Pryor’s genius was in being able to make his misery funny. I have all of Pryors tapes. I think he’s the most gifted comedian, yet I never laughed at those jokes.  Pryor joked on how it taught him character and professed his admiration to his father for making him hard.

It made me wonder. How can any physical beating ever be a point of pride in any culture, any society? What extremes and rationalizations are parents willing to employ to make sure they have well behaved children?  What should our response be when this is too often the message we are sending in our society?

I may have not known about Tyler Perry’s admission if I had not known about his work with a new movie coming out called Precious. It’s about the struggle of a 16-year-old survivor of abuse. You don’t see too many films about abuse streaming out of the Hollywood lot. This is one of them. Go see it on November 6th.

And remember, there is courage in breaking the silence, but change only comes when we decide to respond to the brave stories of those like Tyler Perry.  How do you plan on responding?

6 thoughts on “Tyler Perry Breaks The Silence

  1. For the most part, I’ve got to admit that Tyler Perry’s movies/tv shows get on my nerves but I applaud his efforts and his new movie Precious. Even though I tend to stay away from movies dealing with Child Abuse, I will try to see this one. Speaking out in this way was tremendously brave.

  2. Let me just say that while I deeply respect and am proud of what Tyler Perry has been able to accomplish (what other black films are opening no. 1?) However, I do feel that he has a responsibility to produce positive images of African Americans. Hollywood has spent plenty of time distorting the images of the black family (TCS a notable exception) that I just feel that when given the awesome opportunity that Tyler Perry has, he could’ve maybe done something greater with it.

    There are only a handful of black shows on TV right now and House of Payne is one of them. That is a great platform to entertain and show what black life is really about in a more multi-dimensional aspect. So why when given that chance did he make the character Janene a crack head who burned down her house getting high? A situation that would require the willing suspension of any racial pride for me to think was even a little bit funny.

    In defense of Spike, he has studied filmmaking and understands the history of blacks in cinema and television. I dare say it, but my feeling is that many of Mr. Perry’s supporters who want to rush to jump all over Spike–do not understand that background and probably don’t know who Amos and Andy or Steppin Fetchit were.

    Black movies don’t all have to be one thing. They can be serious, funny, dramatic, sexy, dark, loving, imaginative, and entertaining. There is room at the table for both of these filmmakers. But to whom much is given, much is required and both of these men have to consider how Black people are being represented in their work.
    I’m just sayin….

    • This article was more about Tyler Perry the person. I respect your viewpoints, but in regards to his own childhood he has a responsibility that supercedes all race, ethnic, cultural, and civic ties.

      He has a responsibility to heal.

      If a black man can stand up and say this is my name, I was abused, it caused me great harm, and I refuse to condone what my father did to me with my silence, THEN what greater good could he have accomplished as a man?

      Let’s recognize the moral courage it took to go where Mr. Perry went.

  3. The major problem relative to preventing child sexual abuse is few folks will discuss the abuse. Not solely those who have been abused but even more-so those who have been fortunate enough to have been spared this awful violation. I applaud Tyler Perry’s act of revealing & his addressing the problem in a film, we need (much) more of both. We also can play the “cause” forward with a real annual conference. This requires an organizer. Anyone wanting to learn positive solutions to preventing incestuous abuse needs to start with viewing the documentary INCEST A Family Tragedy available at http://www.ShazzamFilms.com.


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