April 4, 2013
An Open Letter to Tyler Perry
by Chris MacDonald-Dennis
An HIV-positive minister-in-training challenges the director's version of Christianity in his latest film.
I had promised myself months ago that I would not comment on your movies anymore because it was only serving to raise my blood pressure. Like the serenity prayer says, I was going to accept the things I cannot change. It worked for a while, too. But then you released Tyler Perry's Temptation and I had to say something.
For years, I have believed that Black folks deserve better than you. I realize that this can be seen as patronizing. You see, I am not Black. Some may say that I do not have a right to comment on you and the Black community. I would actually agree with them. I may have my opinions about your "artistry" and the impact of your movies on the Black community, but that is an intra-community discussion for Black folks to have. This will certainly not stop me from holding my opinions and sometimes sharing them; however, I do believe that it is Black folks who need to begin that particular conversation.
However, this time you decided to talk about my community: those of us living with HIV/AIDS.
In Temptation, you chose to make HIV be seen as a disease that people "deserve" for cheating on their partner. [In the movie, the character of Judith cheats on her husband and she contracts HIV from the other man.] HIV is understood as a punishment for our sinful behavior. The end of the movie is the most telling: the woman with HIV is lonely and ugly, while the people without HIV are beautiful and coupled. You could not have made this movie any more of a so-called morality play.
I have two issues with this: 1) the idea that HIV is a disease that will leave us lonely, dejected and is somehow deserved and 2) your cartoonish, simplistic view of Christianity.
Mr. Perry, I found out that I was living with HIV in 1996. Do you know my "sin"? Not loving myself enough to demand my partner use a condom. I did not deserve this disease. This was not a punishment for my supposed sinfulness. It is a virus, period.
Contrary to what you think, my life has actually blossomed since I was diagnosed 17 years ago. I met my life partner, received my doctorate, married my partner, had two wonderful jobs and begun seminary. HIV actually allowed me to see the beauty in humanity. I have experienced an outpouring of love and support. Is everything perfect? Of course not, but my life is full of wonderfulness. HIV has not taken that away.
As a minister-in-training, I have to challenge your version of Christianity. "Good" people are distinct from "bad" people. "Good" people may hurt, but they will end up blessed in the end. "Bad" people will suffer for their evil ways. Your morality plays (let us remember that this is not your first time showing HIV in a movie; try as I might, I cannot forget your portrayal of HIV in For Colored Girls) follow a trite "Christian" morality that does not help anyone. You want to see the world in black and white, when the world is really a bunch of gray.
Guess what? God was with me when I found out I had HIV. God had wanted me to love myself more, of course. But God did not abandon me. In fact, God is there with us even more when we slip up. It is then that God loves us even more fiercely. I am thankful that I shall one day serve as an alternative to your version of Christianity.
Mr. Perry, none of us "deserve" HIV. HIV is not punishment for our supposed sins. Like I said earlier, it is a virus, a disease. We are not pitiful creatures rejected by society. We are full human beings who are living as best we can.
Chris MacDonald-Dennis was diagnosed with HIV in 1996. He is the dean of multicultural life at Macalaster College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This article was originally published on Scribd.com.
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