Essence Atkins Blasts Tyler Perry Over Kim Kardashian Casting

Essence Atkins Blasts Tyler Perry Over Kim Kardashian Casting

Tyler Perry’s work is a lot of things, and polarizing is chief among them. Some people hail his movies as cinematic gold, because he’s a poor (black) boy made good and who managed to position himself as a major power-player and entity unto himself in the film industry, while cultivating a close friendship and business partnership with Oprah Winfrey. Those same fans seem to consider Perry as someone who should be above reproach, because he’s a mogul who employs black actors, actresses, and film crew and his work (while formulaic) appeals to their Christian sensibilities. Then there are those of us who critique his productions and find some of Perry’s iterations and heavy respectability politics problematic, specifically the way black women and black female sexuality are portrayed in the majority of his films, most notably For Colored Girls (a somewhat ambitious adaptation of poet/playwright, Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed  choreopoem) and most recently, Temptation.

Actress Essence Atkins offered her own critique of Tyler Perry’s work, in an interview with Sister 2 Sister Magazine. Atkins questioned Tyler Perry’s motives for having cast Kim Kardashian (another polarizing pop-culture figure) in Temptation, in a role that amounted to nothing more than an over-hyped cameo. She said…

“I found it interesting that Tyler did that with Temptation, hiring Kim Kardashian because she has 16 million Twitter followers, which would seem like a brilliant marketing plan. He has one of the biggest Twitter personalities out there in his movies, and he had one of the worst box office weekends… It’s not a failure, but it did worse than his movies usually do just based on him. I thought that was an interesting finding. Your experiment didn’t work.”

“People want to see good stories. It’s not necessarily that they want to see Kim Kardashian in a movie. They want to see her in a bikini. They want to see her with Kanye [West]. They want to see her on her on her [reality] show talking about her life with her sisters, but that doesn’t mean that they want to see her in a movie. The fact that people want to see their lives and the volatility of that… I don’t think that translates at all.” 

And while Essence may have a valid point—particularly since film roles for trained, working black actresses are few and far between and are being offered to reality TV personalities—, as par for the course when opinions deviate from the norm, the actress received backlash for her comments and was basically accused of “hating” or perhaps being jealous for not having snagged a significant role of late (otherwise known as “not relevant”).

Presumably concerned about the potential repercussions her comments could have on her career and the percentage of her fan-base that saw and liked Temptation and/or Kim Kardashian, Essence backtracked on Twitter and claimed her comments were misrepresented…

“Angry fans = what happens when [ppl] take part of my conversation out of context add their own agenda & misrepresent it as verbatim. #ugh”

Essence Atkins vs. Tyler Perry, over Kim Kardashian?
Essence Atkins vs. Tyler Perry, over Kim Kardashian?

As someone who gets a lot of push-back for my critiques of Tyler Perry’s work, but who remains steadfast in my opinions, why can’t we ever have a productive dialogue about the way Perry approaches his films, without the ad hominems? Her claim of being misquoted notwithstanding, Essence Atkins raised some very interesting points about Tyler Perry’s decision to cast Kim K. based on a credential as innocuous as her Twitter count, and her disappointment is warranted. Essence is a working actress who, undoubtedly, has to navigate the bullshit the Hollywood machine often puts its black actresses through. Why can’t she express that frustration? Her observations are just as significant (if not more) than those of us who don’t have to side-step the politics of being cast in a film, as an actress of color.

If opinions and discourse were as cut-and-dry as “being a hater”, then there would be no real  incentive or need to engage. Not to mention, “You’re/she’s/he’s/they’re just a hater/haters” is the most remedial response to a question or challenge, and is generally employed by people who don’t have the intellectual fortitude to think critically.

Art is, arguably, subjective. And considering most of Perry’s apologists will argue that he’s laughing all the way to the bank and box office, then questioning whether someone with as much pull as he has, even cares about the art of filmmaking and storytelling as opposed to just being a shrewd businessman, is reasonable to those of us who do care about and appreciate the nuances of storytelling and film production. No?

Tyler Perry has a platform unlike any other black director/scriptwriter/playwright/director. Why not ask or wonder (out loud) why he doesn’t deviate from his formula and explore work and actors/actresses/screenplays with a little more depth of character?