I Can Do Bad All By Myself – Making Progress on Black Women’s Portrayals?

Tyler Perry has racked up a lot of anti-woman points in his portrayals of Black women. From movies that condone violence against Black women (A Family that Preys and Daddy’s Little Girls), to portrayals of Black professional women as emasculating and unable to balance career with family (Why Did I get Married? and A Family that Preys), to say that his portrayals of women have been unkind is an understatement. While his recent portrayals of women in I Can Do Bad All By Myself , mark progress, it seems that Black women’s portrayals are at the expense of Black men’s.

A few things to note about I Can Do Bad All by Myself: It exposes the role of sexual violence in the lives of Black women. It affirms the need to believe survivors of sexual violence. It resolves that the cycle of not believing survivors can be broken. These are important steps for the man that currently has a monopoly on Black filmmaking to take.
For what it’s worth, it’s also important to note that Black women of all sizes, ages and complexions have had prominent roles in his films and particularly age and complexion diversity is a feature of I Can Do Bad All By Myself. It is my hope that a leading lady with locs or natural hair is in the works.

On the other hand, in the words of Mary J., an actress and soloist in the movie, I Can Do Bad… “ain’t all roses.”  The movie plays to the fears of some Black men that for every step forward Black women take, Black men must take two steps back. The movie portrays the lead character of “April” played by Taraji Henderson as complex, making sense of a traumatic past. Her partner “Randy,” played by Brian White, is the villainous, brutal buck, Black male who cheats on his wife (with April) and preys on younger women. There is no context provided for his behavior or his actions other than he is just another ain’t shit Black man. The depiction of Randy is worsened because he is juxtaposed with the light-skinned, Latino, “Sandino,” played by Adam Rodriguez who assumes the role of father and husband that the seen, and unseen, Black men in the film do not.

I truly believe that making a movie that exposes the realities of sexual violence against Black women doesn’t have to accompany towering negative portrayals of Black men. Positive Black male partners could have shown up opposite Gladys Knight or Mary J. Blige. Black directors who want to offer complex portrayals of Black masculinity must develop the practice of giving visibility to perpetrators of sexual violence in our midst and seizing opportunities to include Black men that model feminist behavior. I am genuinely glad that a man of color exhibited this behavior. I am also glad that I Can Do Bad… featured an intra-minority romantic partnership against the backdrop of America’s sometimes-sordid state of Black and Brown relations. But it means something that despite all the footage under his belt, Tyler Perry has yet to produce a film with a Black feminist couple, that features how they succeed in their careers while making equal contributions to their households as parents and partners. Tyler Perry must aspire to make that movie.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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