Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor opened last weekend as the third highest grossing film at the box office. Despite the film's commercial success—like many other Tyler Perry productions—many of the reviews have not been kind. Three characters in the film are HIV positive. Some critics have eviscerated Perry for using HIV/AIDS as a "plot device." And this isn't the first time.
"Less a film than a morality play .. it presents HIV as a 'sinner's disease'," writes Buzzfeed's Louis Peitzman.
Whether or not one condones cheating on a spouse, the implication that a person deserves HIV is horrifying. What's worse, however, is that Perry has written Temptation as a morality play. ... Viewed in this context, it's not simply that Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) deserves HIV, but that it's a "sinner's disease." HIV — at least, HIV the plot device — is Tyler Perry's punishment for our sins.
This isn't even the first time that Tyler Perry has used HIV to drive a point home. In For Colored Girls, he gave us Jo, played by Janet Jackson. She contracted HIV from her husband's infidelity with other men. I won't even go into the film's homophobia, another recurring issue in Perry's movies, but the basic idea is the same: Jo's husband gets HIV because he cheated on his wife. And Jo herself is apparently culpable, because she knew her husband was gay and chose to ignore it.
Lindy West at Jezebel asks if Perry is "shaming" his audience—many of whom are Black women: "That Perry would have the gall to use HIV as a punitive measure against black women who don't fit his idea of "goodness"—black women, by the way, account for 2/3 of new HIV infections among women—betrays a frightening selfishness and lack of empathy."
The epicenter of the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic is Black America. African-Americans and other Black communities represent only 14% of the nation’s population but account for about 44% of all new HIV infections, report the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black gay and bisexual men suffer the highest new infection rates in the country. Read more at EBONY: "The State of HIV/AIDS in Black America."
One of the most thoughtful critiques of Perry's shameful HIV narrative was written by R20 frend Chris MacDonald-Dennis, a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based university administrator, writer, and seminary student. He is also a gay man living openly with HIV.
In Temptation, you choose to make HIV be seen as a disease that people "deserve" for cheating on their partner. 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 withoutH IV are beautiful and coupled. You could not have made this movie any more of a so-called morality play.
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 acondom. I did not deserve this disease. This was not a punishment formy supposed sinfulness. It is a virus, period.
Contrary to what you think, my life has actually blossomed since I wasdiagnosed 17 years ago. I met my life partner, received my doctorate,married my partner, had two wonderful jobs and begun seminary. HIVactually 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.
Chris MacDonald-Dennis' words are so powerful because they are personal and come from almost 20 years of experience. Within 24 hours, the open letter to Tyler Perry has almost 6000 views. If there is one thing you read tonight, read it HERE or AFTER THE JUMP ...