Tyler Perry, Atlanta's favorite writing/acting/directing/cross-dressing showbiz mogul, has a new movie coming out Friday. It's called Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns and will likely be one of, if not the, most popular movie in the country this weekend.
Perry is a showbiz King Midas.
According to Box Office Mojo, his films have grossed $200 million since 2005, while costing less than $37 million to produce. Two of his four movies debuted at No. 1. In 2006, he published a No. 1 best-selling novel. And last year's debut of "Tyler Perry's House of Payne," his sitcom on TBS, was the most watched sitcom broadcast in the history of cable. At this point, the man could fart into a microphone and thousands of people would pay $2.95 per minute to listen.
But the most important thing I know about Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns is that I have no intention of going to see it. I know, with near certainty, that I will not enjoy it.
You're more likely to catch me paying $8.85 for 180 seconds of Tyler Perry's Fart Line than you are to see me coughing up $7.50 for a matinee ticket to this movie.
The fact is, even though I work for a newspaper that covers Atlanta culture (and Tyler Perry is, by far, Atlanta's most popular cultural figure) I'd never seen any of his movies until I started writing this story. I've never even considered seeing one.
Why? That's what I'm trying to find out.
I've considered the possibilities.
I'm a movie snob: I like all kinds of movies. I love Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, but also Superbad, and Napoleon Dynamite, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Devil Wears Prada – the Meryl Streep parts, anyway.
And while I probably rent a higher-than-average number of earnest documentaries and European art-house pictures on Netflix, I'm a sucker for schmaltz and sentimentality.
I still watch When Harry Met Sally pretty much every time it's on TV. I cried during the kiss montage at the end of the Italian drama Cinema Paradiso. I even teared up during My Giant, a not-especially-funny comedy starring Billy Crystal and former NBA center Gheorghe Muresan. I was drunk, but still.
Hell, the fact that two of the three movies mentioned in the above paragraph star Billy Crystal should effectively immunize me from all present and future charges of cine-snobbery.
OK, so, no, I'm not a movie snob.
I'm a racist: I don't think I'm a racist. I consider myself more of a misanthrope than a racist. Gimme 10 people of any race, religion and or creed and I can find a reason to strongly dislike nine of them. My relentless negativity does not discriminate.
I can't relate to people who aren't like me: Tyler Perry's stories revolve around black, church-going women who struggle with relationships and faith. None of those categories applies to me, but I don't see why that should preclude me from liking the movies.
I enjoy the work of enough black American artists in enough media, from Professor Longhair to Cee-Lo, from Aretha Franklin to Erykah Badu, from Gordon Parks to Spike Lee, to know I'm not closed to black American artists whose work evokes uniquely black American experiences.
Hell, I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a gay Spaniard obsessed with matriarchy – but seeing Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother, in Spanish, with subtitles, was one of the most affecting emotional experiences I've ever had in a movie theater. The fact is, I appreciate movies that make me step outside of myself a bit.
So then why? Why do I instinctively hate Tyler Perry movies I've never seen?
To try to unravel the mystery, I gathered three female, African-American co-workers who are fans of his work for a screening and a discussion. Movies are communal experiences. Perhaps watching one of his movies with three people who like Tyler Perry could turn me into a fan. If not, maybe they could at least help me figure out what it is about his work I don't like.
The panel was assembled thusly. I got up from my desk and asked the first black person I saw if she liked Tyler Perry. That was Tiffany Roman, a CL intern. As luck would have it, she said yes, and agreed to be on the panel.
A few minutes later, I was in a meeting and happened to be sitting next to Chanté LaGon, our operations editor. After the meeting, I asked her if she likes Tyler Perry. Only the movies, she says, not the TV show.
"That show is terrible," Chanté says.
I told her what I was going to do and she agreed to join the panel.
Chanté then suggested I ask Kenisha Allen, the paper's advertising coordinator, to join us. Kenisha's a big fan of Perry's work. Kenisha agreed and the panel was assembled.