‘I Have No Writers Room...I Write It All’: Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Gatekeeper

Tyler Perry attends the Oval and Sistas screenings on Oct. 20, 2019, in Atlanta
Photo: Marcus Ingram (Getty Images for BET)

While Madea may be laid to rest, Tyler Perry isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

To kick off the first official business day of the new year, the 50-year-old writer, producer, actor, and director decided to use his Twitter account to boast about his unmatched work ethic.

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“So, I don’t know if you know this but all shows on television have a writers’ room,” Perry said in a video displaying his many TV scripts. “And most of the time there are 10 [or] 12 people that write these television shows. Well, I have no writers’ room. Nobody writes any of my work. I write it all. Why am I telling you this? I wrote all of these scripts by myself in 2019. What’s my point? WORK ETHIC!”

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Let’s just say…his intended message wasn’t received as planned.

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There are a few things to unpack with this video. Let’s explore them, shall we?

Tyler Perry’s Demographic Is Solid AF and That’s OK

Perry knows his audience. His core audience is a loyal and God-fearing group that possesses big auntie energy. My main gripe isn’t that Perry and his content exist, it’s more that he has the prime real estate of most of the “black content” available for mainstream audiences. Perry’s perspective is valid and fine. In fact, there is a legit conversation to be had within the community regarding the respectability politics and shame surrounding his “chitlin circuit” content. But, he’s certainly not the only perspective. And solely propping up his work to the detriment and erasure of other well-rounded perspectives in the black film and TV community isn’t the move.

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You Know What That Isn’t? Growth.

Insecure’s favorite character Kelli once had a moment of self-reflection that became one of the show’s most popular memes, quipping, “You know what that is? Growth.” And yet, knowing the definition of growth (or any word, for that matter) is knowing what it isn’t just as much as knowing what it is.

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As I mentioned, Perry’s existence is OK and I would never undermine his ability to tell his story. However, that can be true in the same world where valid critiques of his character tropes (including colorism, homophobia, misogynoir, etc.) also exist.

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With over 20 years of theater, film and TV credits under his belt, it would stand to reason to see some type of evolution and growth in one’s work. Because guess what we don’t need more of? Black women only receiving love out of trauma or contracting AIDS as punishment. Plus, with his veteran status, Perry knows the importance of collaboration in film and television. It is absurd to write one quality TV show season by yourself (given the crucial steps of breaking story, pitching, outlining, etc.), let alone several.

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The ‘He Gives Black Folks Jobs’ Narrative Should Extend to Black Writers

Perry has been credited as providing countless and consistent opportunities for black actors, especially actors who are oft-ignored in mainstream media. Shit, the legendary Cicely Tyson definitely knows she always has a job as long as Perry is around. However, that same grace needs to be extended to writers and directors (though, I do note the gravity of being able to host black-led films in a black-owned studio lot). Storytellers are, essentially, the foundation of the Hollywood industry and if Perry is aiming to be the Diddy of Hollywood (i.e. selfishly rising in the ranks whilst stepping on fellow artists/creators), things will get awfully shaky.

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Perhaps the reluctance to have a writers’ room could be due to that pesky little collective action club called unions. It isn’t a secret that Perry has an aversion to them, which was highlighted once again when he opened his historic production studio lot.

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In 2008, the Writer’s Guild of America West released a statement in response to Perry firing four writers noting, “The Writers Guild of America West is taking on the fight for justice of writers who were fired when they tried to get a union contract with Tyler Perry’s production company, House of Payne, LLC. The Guild today filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that House of Payne unlawfully fired four writers in retaliation for their union activity. The charge also alleges that the company bargained in bad faith with the Guild, which is seeking to negotiate a contract covering the writers on Perry’s cable television series House of Payne and Meet the Browns.”

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Perry is undoubtedly a powerful force in Hollywood. He is a quintessential “gatekeeper.” However, what good is a gatekeeper if you never use the key to let others in—especially when folks like Ava DuVernay are basically handing Hollywood the blueprint to effective gatekeeping?

He Has a Show Named BRUH.

Now that I’m done assessing things critically, let’s get to the delightful foolery.

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If Mr. Perry knows how to do anything, it’s keeping me entertained in some manner. There’s a reason why I spent days talking about Mehcad Brooks’ wig in his upcoming film, A Fall From Grace on Twitter (wigs are another thing Perry refuses to make progress with).

In what appears to be a sibling component to his show Sistas, one of the hard copy scripts in Perry’s video is for a television show named Bruh.

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The only reaction to that is…bruh.

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I guess we’ll see if Perry decides to ease up on that “I write it all” mandate, especially as it has caused quite the productive conversation. For the “y’all hiring?” crowd, apparently there is an opportunity to send your production resumes to Tyler Perry Studios. Let’s see if writers will be included in that bunch soon. That would certainly be a pleasant plot twist in the script.

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About the author

Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.