Dear Tyler Perry: An Open Letter on Behalf of Survivors

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Dear Tyler Perry,

I know you don’t know me but I am a huge fan of your work and your journey. I was first introduced to your work in the lounge of my dorm my senior year in college. One of my dorm mates acted like a Tyler Perry evangelist. He kept folks up all night watching videos of your staged plays. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night by the howling laughter of my friends watching your plays. Fast forward over 10 years later and you have gone from being an obscure playwright to … well… you know who you are. And I am so proud of who you have become and how you have created something huge from absolutely nothing.

More than your accomplishments as a writer, producer, actor and studio head, I was most proud of your bravery when you revealed to the world that you were a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was proud that you chose to speak about this pain that so many men face but so rarely talk about. I watched the episode of Oprah where you sat in a room full of men who had similar life experiences. And it seemed to me that your willingness to tell your truth was setting the audience free.

All of those things considered, I still had something on my chest that I really wanted to express to you. I’ve watched much of your work, your plays, movies, and tv shows. (The Haves and the Have Nots is my guilty pleasure.) And I’ve noticed that sexual and domestic violence against women occurs in much of your work.

On some level I can appreciate the fact that, as a black male filmmaker, you have have chosen to highlight the fact that rape and domestic violence and other violence are very real issue for black women. Yet there is something about the way these issues are highlighted that leaves me wondering.

For example, I wonder, as a survivor of sexual violence, are you aware of the fact that your work may be triggering the very survivors you are seeking to heal? Are you aware that in you attempt to achieve personal catharsis you are creating and affirming certain stereotypes of black women? And lastly, and more to my broader point, I wonder why you choose to only have this sort of violence perpetuated again female bodies. I wonder this especially since your male body has experienced this sort of violence first hand. I am fully aware that addressing sexual violence and other forms of violence against black male bodies in your work would be a revolutionary shift. You would be delving in to uncomfortable and uncharted territory. But I think the shift is necessary.

I think your appearance on Oprah was the beginning of the shift. But there is more work to do. And I believe you are in the perfect position to do that work. Portraying the stories of black male survivors of sexual violence on the big and little screen will allow men to see themselves for once. It would allow them to walk away from the forced silence and gender-related confusion that comes when we act as if sexual abuse and violence only happens to female bodies.

I also feel that balancing the acts of violence across genders will in some ways give black women a break. We can get a break from always being the modern damsel in distress who needs to be saved. We can get a break from the neo-stereotype of the black woman who is so damaged by her past that she can’t see a good black man standing in front of us. And maybe if you talk about the violence against all bodies we can begin to unpack the more nuanced and complicated personal histories behind the many forms of violence we as black people perpetuate against each other in general.

I am aware that is a lot for a show or a movie or play. I am aware that you are not a sociologist, psychologist, or theologian. At the same time, we all know your work reaches deeper into our community than the work of anyone in any of those professions. And that is a high calling. And you have not neglected that call at all. But as a fan I believe you can take it a step further and take the work of healing you’ve already done to the next level.

Much love and respect.

Rev. Dominique Atchison

The Rev. Dominique Chantell Atchison is a native of the Bronx. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in African American Studies from Oberlin College in Ohio and a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York. Rev. Atchison was ordained to Christian ministry by the United Church of Christ. She currently serves as an Associate Minister, Chaplain and Sacred Conversations on Race Coordinator. Rev. Atchison is also a singer, performance artist and a writer. She has contributed articles to several blogs, including the Young Clergy Women’s Project’s “Single Rev’s Guide to Life” and For Harriet.

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