In the Netflix original, a middle-aged divorcee named Grace (Crystal Fox) gets a new lease on life after meeting Shannon (Mehcad Brooks with a horrid hairpiece), a romantic young photographer. But their marital bliss quickly dissolves into sheer chaos when Grace realises that her new groom is nothing but a two-bit grifter; Shannon has committed fraud in Grace’s name, leaving her penniless and facing jail time.
Ironically enough, Grace does land behind bars, accused of viciously murdering her husband in a fit of rage. Her lawyer (Bresh Webb) fights against the clock and the disapproval of her boss (Perry) to save her client, discovering the shocking truth behind Shannon's appearance in Grace's life.
When the trailer first dropped on Netflix earlier this month, many who were familiar with Perry’s work couldn’t help but roll their eyes. The project seemed to fit in perfectly with the rest of the filmmaker’s filmography, much of his work characterised by a fixation on the emotional and mental distress of black women.
His very first film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, tells the story of a woman who finds herself destitute after her husband kicks her out of their home. In Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, a woman cheats on her husband and picks up a drug habit as well as an incurable sexually transmitted disease. Acrimony stars Taraji P. Henson as a bitter ex-wife (suffering from what the story hints is an undiagnosed mental illness) who goes off the deep end in her quest for revenge.
With only a few exceptions — shoutout to Precious, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, and Why Did I Get Married — most of Perry’s movies are a tough watch. Beyond their consistent framing of Black women as victims in need of saving by a man in a bad wig (looking at you, Shemar Moore), the films are almost always suffering the same ailments: scattered storylines, irredeemably random twists, and gaping plot holes.
Many attribute the quality of Perry's work to his writer's room, or lack thereof in his case. The 50-year-old recently went viral after taking to social media to show off a stack of scripts, explaining that he alone was responsible for penning the scripts of his many television shows and films.
"Most of the time, there are 10-12 people that write on a television show," Perry said, panning over his many scripts in the video. "Well, I have no writers room. Nobody writes any of my work — I write it all."
"I wrote all of these scripts, by myself, in 2019," he continued. "What's my point? Work ethic!"
The reaction to Perry's tweet was swift and lethal, with people from every corner of the internet flooding the star's mentions with choice words. Some pointed out that he was leaving talented black writers out in the cold in lieu of a one-man show. Others rightfully highlighted the error in writing so many shows about black women without actually inviting any black women to contribute to the scripts. How can he, a black man, appropriately and accurately speak to the lived experience of black women?
Criticism be damned, Perry stands by his work and the choice to be in control of all of it. In a recent interview with journalist Aliya S. King, the 50-year-old shrugged off the negative feedback, saying that he does what he does because it's worked for him so far — and it's what the people want.
"I speak to my folks. And I speak my language," he offered. "And how would I look, disassembling my machine because someone doesn’t like the stories I tell and how I tell them — when millions of people do?"
Like it or not, he's got a point there. Long before Perry was making films and creating series for Oprah Winfrey's television network OWN, he was the king of the urban theatre circuit; his stage productions traveled around the United Stakes, raking up enough on the tour to fund his very first feature film in 2005.
Perry carried the beloved foul-mouthed, gun-toting, Bible-misquoting staple character of Madea from the stage to the silver screen, and with each release, audiences flocked to theatres everywhere to see what type of chaos she would bring to the story. No matter what we think of her (or the fact that Perry dons a wig and a fat suit to play her), people really do love Madea. Perry's films, including those featuring the character, have generated over $1 billion in ticket sales.
The producer says that's because many of us know a Madea, and the people that are averse to seeing that type of representation onscreen feel that way out of shame.
"Black people sometimes don’t want certain colours of black people represented," said Perry. "I come from those colours and I’m never ashamed of my stories. I do not now — nor have I ever — cared if people get it or not."
"How do we judge work? And how do we decide this film was better than that film. You really can’t," he continued. "If you don’t understand Bollywood or Nigerian films or abstract art — it’s all subjective. Make art for your audience; it doesn’t have to be judged."
The Haves and the Have Nots director isn't worried about critics or the memefication of his work. In the long run, it doesn't matter, because Perry says that he's making content for his audience. And if you don't get it, maybe you're just not part of the group that he's talking to.