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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comments 1 - 9 (of 9 total)
Toya Williams, , 2013-05-02 11:33:03
Chris I am a vibriant beautiful black woman living with HIV and I completely agree with you. I got the virus from a guy who chased me for 5 months. He knew he was HIV+. I didn't deserve his dishonesty of nondisclosure. However, since being diagnosed, I have lead a full life. I have a job working with the public and a lucrative social life. I am not ugly nor alone. The depiction of HIV in Temptations need to be revised. It is offensive to us in the black community living with HIV/AIDS.
Frederick Wright, Coachella Valley, 2013-04-18 12:12:41
Someone once stated, I do not have a problem with temptation, until I am tempted. I have worked in much faith fellowship to try and understand this sunning of HIV people and their children or the term in the Black Church they are in the garden. The men would leave the women to deal with the hard works of sexuality and illness concerning HIV in many cases in the South. I remember a Pastor Dedra Green that worked with The AIDS Institute and had a spirit like Mr. Perry’s alter ego in a dress.
Frederick Wright, Coachella Valley, 2013-04-18 12:08:11
Pastor Dedra Green fought daily to live and preach the salvation of Jesus to children in the streets of Jacksonville Florida and talk openly about human sexuality, while the well-dressed church people built more building and dress to the hill on Sunday. She was a Hero to me in her efforts to fight the good fight each day. She died from AIDS and left three orphans behind and pray they are ok in their trauma today. Mr. Perry find them and tell their story, I can assure you it will not be funny.
KR, Virginia, 2013-04-12 22:59:56
I would like to say thank you for the insight about Tyler Perry's movie. I was very angry with him when I saw the movie "Temptations." I hate it when black people feel like they have to defend his ignorance. I have been positive for 20 years. Sorry, to say this but a lot of Christians where I live give me nothing but a hard time from housing to jobs. I feel that this movie just really give people a pass to futher stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS.
Joe T, Castro Valley, 2013-04-11 20:46:17
I for one think you have the right as a person with HIV.... I think we have to remember he is doing movies for Hollywood ... And that Hollywood is still homophobic and misogynistic...I for one stopped watching his movies because they tend to be stereotypical and single dimensional .., and they are not for anyone who can think and actually see beyond them being mindless glop... They do give African American actors work and that is about all I can see as beneficial ....he is not worth the rant
ria, Kampala, 2013-04-11 11:47:09
Thank you Chris for being spot on! I am also a Christian and I am perturbed by a common view among our church leaders i.e. that HIV is a punishment and we should bear it until God shows us mercy and heals us. Thousands are suffering because of such ignorant views in a country like Uganda, where really people should know better. The church is not quite supportive of some suffering people. I am glad your life changed for the better. God bless you. Ria
Sean, Washington, DC, 2013-04-09 17:24:12
Wow! Very well said. It seems as though Hollywood, and Mr. Perry in this case, is very good at perpetuating stereotypes. It's similar to when blacks and latinos are typecast as the "bad" guys. Shame on Mr. Perry for his way overly simplistic and judgmental view of a faith that exhalts forgiveness and love. Thanks for the heads up. I'll definitely not be catching a showing of this flick.
Frederick Wright, Coachella Valley, 2013-04-08 14:40:24
I have not seen the movie and Mr. Tyler in his humanness just like Magic are making a lot of green off HIV at this time as good business man. Truly, I am sure he has no ideal that the jokes and implication can cause people to embrace the shame and stigma in the most hurtful ways or is an attempt to bring the subject to light. My question, is where the Black AIDS Institute; Where is the Black Church within these issues? Silent on the subject can confirm to many, they support the concepts.
jacqueline, , 2013-04-06 22:38:57
comments 1 - 9 (of 9 total)
As a black poz christian, i think u misread tylers intent he only had 2hrs to try and make an impact on his people. truth b told if WE all had remained monogumous AIDS would have stopped at patient zero. remember for some "black folk" his portrayal may b the only HIV education they may get. at least he's not running from HIV like most churches and ministers. its shameful that i can go to church every sunday and not hear anything about HIV at least hes trying.
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