Tyler Perry has created TLC’s first ever scripted series. Too Close To Home follows the personal journey of a young woman from the trailer parks of Alabama as she climbs the ladder of social mobility into D.C. politics. It already sounds like a cliche Perry saga: a woman with something to hide puts nothing before success and money, risking exposure at every turn. But there is one notable difference, the lead in Too Close To Home is white. In fact, most of the cast is white and fans of Perry are not happy about it.
Responding to the criticism, Perry told the Associated Press, "That's totally reverse racism, because it was coming from African-American people. I don't know if it was because they thought I should only be giving jobs to Black people. Well, I think that's ridiculous." He clarified his views on cultural diversity by stating, “I'm just finding out more as I travel the country and world, the more I meet people, we're all the same." I have some issues here.
I’m no fan of Perry’s — his portrayal of Black women is annoying at best, and harmfully reductive at worst. But I do agree with part of his rebuttal to critics. Focusing exclusively on representation onscreen, Perry has done his part to uplift people of color. He is an entertainment industry figure that built his career on Black theater with his
trash Madea plays, and he brought many of those Black actors with him when he transitioned to film and television. I agree that it’s quite the stretch to ask him to limit his projects to exclusively Black casts.
But to call it reverse racism is an even bigger reach. I wish I didn’t still have to type these words but: Reverse. Racism. Does. Not. Exist. Racism involves the systemic and institutionalized disenfranchisement of certain groups based on their race. It is not the work of an individual person, or their entertainment company. I’m not entirely sure why I felt so sure that Perry would understand that, but I was let down. The last time I checked, Hollywood is still thriving while drowning in a sea of white faces. So even if Perry did decide to exclusively employ people of color, it would be exclusionary to white people, but not enough to tip the entire racial hierarchy of the industry. If anything, it would be leveling the playing field.
His new color-blind approach to race has us venturing into the same territory as Lee Daniels' exceptionalism. The privilege that Perry has a Black multi millionaire seems to be clouding his judgement on how race actually works in this country.
Please excuse me while I go roll my eyes and continue avoiding his projects like the plague.
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