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Just stories

Danielle’s good pal of 7 years, Jessica, insisted that Danielle watch Tyler Perry’s new film, A Fall from Grace. Danielle and Jessica are both black women. They both have histories in the Black Church (though Danielle now securely identifies as a heathen), and both have lived in an urban culture full of race and gender prejudice that they have both rejected and transcended in their own ways. Danielle, who has never been fond of the filmmaker, decided to curb her suspicions, humor her pal, and watch the movie, especially since Jessica offered Danielle her Netflix password. After what Danielle considered the most objectively inelegant, lazy, and condescending 2 hours of 2020 so far, she ruminated on what must have been Jessica’s psychological state when she recommended the film. Jessica, seized by the emotional flagellation, didn’t notice the plot holes, technical missteps, and self-righteous, chauvinistic tone of the movie.

The two friends met with each other for coffee to compare notes on what they had seen. Surprised by each others’ respective and unrelenting disgust/infatuation, the two pals ultimately agreed to disagree, return to their lives, and never broach the topic again.

Tyler Perry is a polarizing figure in the black community. Some adore him. Others are vexed by him. He's been the subject of criticism and praise, but after all is said, he's just telling stories.

A Fall from Grace: The Synopsis (Spoiler Alert, but it doesn’t matter).

The movie follows the stories of two women: Grace and Jasmine. Grace is facing sentencing for the murder of her young artist husband and Jasmine is the lawyer who will represent her. Both women are navigating their own struggles with internal power and need for validation. Jasmine wants to prove to herself that she is a confident defense attorney despite her colleagues’ absurd lack of faith in her abilities. Grace is so starved for attention and affection that she allows a mother-son team of con artists disguised as best friend and new boyfriend (eventual husband) to rob her and demean her until she snaps and retaliates.

Following a string of unlikely cause-effect relationships, raw Easter eggs launched into our faces*, sophomoric dialogue, and the uncovering of a scandal that makes no sense,

the movie ends with Grace being acquitted of all charges and Jasmine getting an unenthusiastic thumbs up from her disrespectful superior (played by Tyler Perry).

*Easter Egg: a message, inside joke, or reference to a previous work that is “hidden” within a work for fans to discover.

Why it Works (for some)

I've come to the conclusion that Tyler Perry writes horror for Black Christian Women. I’ve seen plenty entertaining and crappy horror movies. The genre is full of campy half plots, exaggerated acting, cartoonish wigs, suspense, and sexual overtones. That which makes a horror movie is not that it’s good, but that it exploits compulsory elements of culture and titilates core, subliminal fears over and over again. No one goes to see a horror movie because they want to feel good, unless, of course, they’re playfully psychopathic, like me and my friends.

It’s worth pointing out that horror writers are not necessarily empathetic people. Many are famed misanthropes who live in the woods contemplating different methods for torturing their audience. They own Hammond organs and play tritones during the full moon. They have parties at their eccentric mansions once a year to re-enact Clue, unbeknownst to their petrified guests who think that the Colonel actually did kill the Professor with the syringe in the cellar. Horror writers are irreverent, satirical, driven by stereotypes, and pick on people under stress.

Tyler Perry is not unique with regards to the handling of his audience. That which does make him unique is how he attracted and kept his audience’s trust. I can theorize about the cultish undertones and cultural weirdness that exist in segments of the black community for the rest of my life, but that’s not how I want to spend my life. However, I do see what he’s doing and frankly, it is what it is.

Emotional Jump Scares

In horror films, jump scares are those moments when suspense builds until someone or something appears out of nowhere and startles the audience. The music is low, the hallway is dark, and the character in the scene is all alone. If you’re feeling the tension, beware the scare.

For many black folks, real life has been jump scare enough. Hell, we’re everybody else’s jump scare. BOO!

However, if you’re Tyler Perry and you’re making horror films for your audience, your most effective "jump scares" are emotional and centered on the themes of worthlessness and shame:

Fear #1: The Man of your Dreams Is Only Using you.

You are a modern woman of prestige, talent, wealth, and education. You grew up on the “right” side of the tracks. The illusive Prince Charming would complete a coveted fantasy, but since you’re probably the one bringing the most to the relationship, you can never be too sure that love is the foundation of your union. The resulting codependency and paranoia of such an uncertain life is more suspenseful than the theme music from Jaws!

Fear #2: People Can See That You Are An Imposter

You have worked so hard to achieve your goals, but deep down, you’re a scared little girl who just wants a hug. You want to be seen and appreciated for who you really are, but you’re terrified of people seeing that little girl behind the curtain. They might use your truth against you, or worse: they might see your truth before you’re ready to acknowledge it! Oh God…NOOOO!

Fear #3: Falling for a Con

Mamma didn’t raise no fool…right? You will tell yourself whatever you have to to prevent acknowledging being scammed. Admitting deception is admitting to being slick talked by Satan himself…that only happens to trollops, harlots, Jezebels, and Eve. If you were the first woman created in the Garden of Eden, you would tell that snake, “Get thee behind me!” You do NOT like magic shows. You don’t trust nobody but the Lord.

Fear #4: Making Mistakes/Being Wrong

You work hard to be perfect and you’re serious about it. If you’re not absolutely sure how something will pan out, you’re not even going to try. If things go counter to plans, then somebody else didn’t do their job. This fear results in self sabotage, self deception, the inability to trust yourself, and being doomed to live with the consequences of bad decisions for longer than you have to. Eventually, things get so out of hand that you can’t face them anymore. You look in the mirror and see nothing looking back. NO! NO!!!!! NOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Tyler Perry has admitted to watching the women he grew up with act as though they are unworthy. His characters reflect this assumption. There is no doubt that he strikes a chord with many…not just black women. And the chord he strikes is loud enough to drown out the noise of poor filmmaking. We know this because his audience is still here for it.

If you accept that Tyler Perry makes horror movies for Black Christian Women who struggle with feelings of worthlessness and shame, it all makes sense. He has the market cornered because no one knows how, nor has the audacity and permission to exploit the compulsory systems of this group the way their sons do.

Both Danielle and Jessica are disturbed by A Fall From Grace, albeit for different reasons. But one of them is his target audience. The other is not. It's that simple. Certain systems in our society feed themselves by affirming themselves incessantly. A girl wouldn't even know to question her worth if she wasn't constantly told that she was worthy. Tyler Perry's work is complete fiction and does not represent anything real. You don't have to graft these stories onto your experience if you don't want to. Then, you can see his stories and the stories anyone tells as stories. Just stories.

(c) Cathryn D. Blue. All Rights Reserved

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