Timothy S. Lyle

"Still Playin Wid Dem Barbie Dolls? Never Mind, Don't Answer That": Tyler Perry's Stage as a Lonely Place for Black Queers

Abstract

In this project, I address Perry’s sexual politics and his oppressive tendencies towards black queers by asking about Perry’s conflicted admixture of homoeroticism and heterosexism in some of his earliest plays to the current moment. Though Perry often centralizes and engages in homoerotic moments onstage as Madea (Perry in drag) sexualizes hypermasculine, shirtless young men on stage, he still manages to insert moments of oppressive dialogue and to privilege taken-for-granted heteronormativity in thematics of his fictive world. As I attempt to reveal why Perry’s stage is a lonely place for black queers, I look to Perry’s characterization of his first presumably black queer character in the stage version Madea’s Family Reunion. I examine Perry’s aesthetic and political choices concerning the staging and dialogue spoken by this character as well as the comments made about, around, and to this character from other dramatic players. 

My chief objectives are to illustrate how Perry toys with a dialectic of oppression and activism and to uncover the double-bind faced by black queers on Perry’s stage or in his audience—that of acting as cultural inspiration for the marrow of Perry’s dramaturgy and functioning as the object of scrutiny, contingent tolerance, and non-reciprocal humor. Ultimately, I aim to highlight the complicated nature of Perry’s discourse concerning blackness and queerness to spotlight how he dramatizes a few of the fundamental dilemmas facing Black queer men in the African American community