Tyler Perry’s Rape Problem

02 Apr 2013

written by Carolyn


Trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault, acquaintance rape, Tyler Perry

A week after rapper Rick Ross found himself in hot water over a lyric that was said to promote date rape, producer and director Tyler Perry found himself facing questions about a scene in his latest movie, “Tyler Perry’s Temptation,” in which a character appears to be forced to have sex against her will.

Except — oops. That hasn’t happened. And probably won’t.

While the Internet continues to explode with commentary about Ross’s offensive lyric, almost no one is talking about the disturbing “seduction” scene in Perry’s latest movie. In fact, of all the reviews I read of Perry’s latest — including several that were scathingly contemptuous — only one characterized the scene as rape, and even that reviewer dismissed the movie as camp.

[Spoiler Alert - spoilers follow]

In the film, Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is wooed by Harley (Robbie Jones), a  super-rich playboy who is obviously the Devil. We know this because Harley drives a red car and runs shirtless regardless of outdoor temperatures. But we really know Harley’s the Devil because Judith’s preacher mama (Ella Joyce, whose pinched facial expressions deserve their own billing) exclaimed, “That’s the Devil!” in an effort to drive Judith into Harley’s arms — I mean, discourage her from further contact with the man.

But I digress.

Judith and Harley are on Harley’s plane when Harley, in the most unsexy manner possible, lets Judith know that he wants to make love to her. Judith rebuffs him, saying they should keep things strictly professional. Harley grabs her, and Judith says “No,” forcefully, a few times, which turns Harley on even more. He pauses long enough to say, “Okay, now you can say you resisted,” and then appears to rape Judith.

The next time we see them, Judith is snatching away from Harley and telling him she wants nothing more to do with him and never wants to see him again — all signs that the encounter on the plane was, indeed a rape. However, in the next scene, Judith sees Harley at her job and becomes angry when he does as she asked, and ignores her. (Women are fickle, y’know.)

Suddenly, Judith is at home on her cell phone, berating Harley for not paying her any attention — while her oblivious husband (Lance Gross in dweeb drag) watches a basketball game in the next room. Harley demands to know if Judith’s husband is better in bed than he — and instead of saying, “Of course, since he’s not a rapist” — Judith flashes back to what passes for steamy lovemaking in a Tyler Perry movie. We’re then made to understand that Judith did indeed consent, or at least, gave in. Harley tells her he’s coming to get her, she invents a flimsy work-related excuse and leaves. Her preacher mama is shocked, but her husband doesn’t even look up from the game.

We next see Judith and Harley in a bathtub surrounded by about eight million candles — he’s the Devil, you know — and the proliferation of burning candles and steam means we’re supposed to imagine that some kind of hell sex happened, creating a whole different kind of fire hazard.

There are obvious differences between Rick Ross’s lyric and Tyler Perry’s film. Harley doesn’t slip a Molly into Judith’s Champagne –he drugs Judith with bad lines. She is fully conscious — so conscious, she says “No!” several times, in fact.

The woman who half-heartedly resists the hunk’s advances until she can no longer deny her own desires and gives in, is, of course, a hackneyed and familiar trope of romance novels and soap operas.

Problem is, we don’t see Judith giving in. We do see her saying “No,” and Harley forcing himself on her. We don’t understand that she eventually acquiesced until the flashbacks.

And this is why Perry deserves some backlash — backlash he won’t get from mainstream media — for this scene.

Perry could have easily made Judith’s consent obvious. A breathless “Yes!” wouldn’t have completely removed the “ick” factor, but would have made Judith’s desires clear. Instead, Perry inexplicably chooses to leave the audience in suspense — briefly — as to whether or not an actual rape occurred, all while promoting the dangerous idea that a woman’s “No” is not really “No,” but merely part of the game of seduction. This scene puts Perry in such fine company as men’s rights advocates who argue that date/acquaintance rape is simply buyer’s remorse, and men who argue — as one man did on Twitter last week — that a man has to push to make sure a woman’s “No” is really “No.”

In real life, people who are sexually assaulted sometimes stop resisting to avoid further physical injury. Relenting, or giving in to what feels inevitable, is hardly the same as consent. As many people have said in the wake of Steubenville, “No Means No” needs to be updated to “Anything Other Than Yes Means No.”

Of course, Perry also is out to punish Judith for turning her back on the Lord. Judith’s downfall is foreshadowed when she starts dressing like Kim Kardashian and drinking alcohol. In this sense, it may not matter to the film’s overall morality message whether Harley rapes or seduces Judith. Either she consented, or she asked for it. Notably, Perry screened this film for 100 pastors prior to its release. They gave him their blessings. That fact may be more troubling than the film itself.

I admit Tyler Perry’s films are not for me. Perry has achieved tremendous success by making films that are not only NOT aimed at people like me, but which are derisive of ambitious, professional black women like me.  I’m sure many excuses will be made for how this pivotal “seduction” scene isn’t rape, or how I’m just a hater — the usual response to those who criticize Perry’s movies. Whatever.

Still, if we’re holding entertainers to account for their words and images, we should be consistent. Perry is as responsible for the images he puts on film as Rick Ross is for the words he puts on a record. And both deserve to be called out for promoting a patriarchal view of sex in which a woman’s consent is irrelevant.

47 Comments on Tyler Perry’s Rape Problem

  1. aisha1908

    I wish I could comment something more profound than “yuck” but I am really disgusted by the rape scene and basically Tyler Perry’s entire catalog of movies. I agree with the update – Anything BUT “yes” really IS “no”. learning about rapey movies like these always make me want to walk up to ramdom men and say “hey! don’t believe that shit in the movie. don’t rape!”

  2. K.Nicole

    Thanks for watching this movie, so I don’t have to. I, too am not a fan of TP’s movies nor am I his target consumer, I’m guessing. The fact that he has a rapey scene in this movie is not surprising because it is clear he has no idea how a functional relationship works at all.

  3. Leon4x

    “Hell sex.”

    My day is complete.

  4. Bre

    I’m glad you saw this movie so I didn’t have to. Just further supports my belief that Tyler Perry hates black women.

  5. Tonia

    I have to agree with K. Nicole I will not be going to see this movie 1) Tyler Perry took forever to put this movie out thinking we would forget that he cast no talent Kim Kardashian 2) see number 1

  6. ThesPNation

    the writer of this “article” is a complete idiot. this is the dumbest thing i’ve read in weeks! saying “no” because you want to resist what you really want but don’t want to ruin your marriage is VERY different from saying “no” because someone is overpowering you and taking full advantage of you against your will. STUPID.


  7. Brandi

    LOL I saw the movie and at the end was sitting there like huh?? Whats funny is ur so right and I didnt even think of the scene as a rape scene until i read this but as I was reading I was thinking back to the movie and u r so right. The movie was OK… HORRIBLE ending. (BTW Ms. Carolyn i love your colorful commentary I was dying laughing at ur synopsis of the movie especially “the devil” parts)

  8. Brian

    “Thanks for watching this movie, so I don’t have to. ”

    That about sums up this movie for me. The thing that bugs the hell out of me is that they cut the trailer in such a way as to make it seem that this one might be a little better.

  9. dKnighTweets

    but y’all have me CRYIN tho that “Tyler Perry” is one of the trigger warnings…i HOLLERED!!!

  10. GangStarrGirl

    I read the plot on TheMovieSpoiler.com. It was every bit of terrible and cliche as I expected but all of his movies are. This is his gazillionth movie and ain’t nothing changed, smh. Ain’t nothing gonna change either.

  11. Mira J

    First thing that came to mind in that seen ..”That manipulative bastard raped her” …Next scene “He really raped her” …Scenes to follow “Why are they acting like she didn’t get raped on that jet.” They turned her all the way out! Smh I was mad at myself for seeing it when I had already suggested that I shouldn’t… Smh

  12. Mahoganie Jade Browne

    Wow. Haven’t seen the movie. Some of his movies I like and some have let me down. I’ve been trying to give him the benefit of growing as a producer, director… the overall filmmaker. Yet, I’ve seen a lot of concerning things when it comes to this particular film. What you have presented is a bit dangerous for viewers who might not get it – that it’s either rape or she actually consented. I’m shocked he didn’t add the “consent” element during the scene because he is famous for more so telling than showing. I guess he was aiming for the whole “implied” idea, but I can’t help but to think back to Stubenville, when one of the defendants admitted he didn’t know what “rape” is; he didn’t think the victim’s nos (esp. in her state) were actual NOs. Granted Tyler has his own personal issue in dealing and coping with sexual abuse, but maybe he too needs a refresher from the female POV? I’m sure the messiness of the scene wasn’t intentional to imply “rape” but to show sexual tension.. but still.. yeah… maybe Judith did need a breathless “yes” or something to indicate… “Go!” and not leave it to her saying “no.”

  13. niki

    OMG, its called entertainment. I truly dont understand why ppl take everything in this country so seriously. Situations happen like this all the time.No matter what race or status. If u cant relate or dont understand his movies why bother to comment. Look at it as a message of what NOT to do or how to prevent it from happening. Thats whats wrong with black ppl today, they’ll find a way to knock the other down. Maybe ya’ll would of been happy if he would of shown the rape scene or make movies with perfect black ppl.

  14. Tawnesha

    Somebody should knock Tyler Perry’s ass out and rape him and see what he thinks about that.

  15. Annon

    And what would be wrong with Tyler Perry making films or a documentary about black people that aren’t dysfunctional??
    Tyler Perry in my eyes caters to the “gossip drama” type crowd and believe me there are many of them out there.

  16. dr. candi dugas

    i know 1 of the 100 pastors who attended the screening who challenged mr. perry on the deeper issues behind the storyline that he presents in this film. she didn’t receive a response from him & she didn’t give him her blanket blessing for “temptation.” (i haven’t seen the film yet.)

  17. DoveLuv02

    OK…so somewhere along the way you forgot the scene, right after the plane scence, that showed them passionately making love. If you are going to recap the movie, don’t just depict what you want, recap the whole thing.

  18. tomica

    it wasnt rape as most women know when ur married or in a relationship and have feelings for another man. we as women play hard to get thats how I seen it because she started to engage in it after he said u resisted if ur being rape u will be screaming and fighting the whole while .it shows that she committed adultery and felt bad because she only been with one man ..people see the movie for ur self and stop believing what u hear smh…

  19. Courtney

    Tyler was raped by a woman as a child so obviously has issues there. It is very sad that Perry can’t release that pain and also live the obvious Truth about his own sexuality.

  20. BG

    I’m not a big TP fan for the reasons addressed by others, though I respect him for the way he’s built himself up. While I don’t disagree with the article, I think it’s a bit of a reach to tie in the Rick Ross controversy. Yes, that was incredibly ignorant of Rick to do, but it’s still kind of an apples-oranges comparison. Just my $0.02

    As for the ones chastising the writer, get over yourselves. Just because it’s “entertainment” doesn’t mean one can’t address any issues with the movie. No one’s bringing anyone down or being a crab in a barrel. Just because it’s a filmmaker of color doesn’t mean we have to accept it as the status quo. And just because someone criticized your beloved TP doesn’t mean they’re trying to bring him down.

  21. Paula White

    You write a thoughtful, witty piece. So, an inconvenient truth about intimate relations between women and men is that women often resist out of obligation, i.e. if they don’t display some resistance, it makes them feel psychologically like the dreaded ‘slut’, so they resist out of obligation as a precursor to getting on with the business of what they really want. And, they sometimes resist to live out a sexual fantasy of being overpowered by a lover. If the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey has taught us nothing else, it should have enlightened us to the fact that the lines separating acceptable sexual behavior from unacceptable sexual behavior is murky at best. If those who are having conversations about rape are unwilling to acknowledge this reality, a comprehensive approach to addressing this problem will elude us all. With regard to Tyler Perry’s films, like you, I am an educated, accomplished mom. I come from a line of educated, accomplished women, and I disagree with your take on Perry’s treatment of women of our ilk. An analysis of his films suggests that he finds a particular brand of successful women problematic – one who is dismissive of those who are below her socio-economic rung AND/OR one who belittles the value of male companionship. Whether or not I agree with that bias is another question, I just think it’s important to define the parameters of what his bias really is.

  22. Ebony

    LOL @ the Tyler Perry trigger warning

  23. Cindala

    Never been intrigued by Tyler’s movies…always left with that..Huh?..wth…feeling…maybe I should help the surely clueless brother out..give him a couple of actual..non-bs reality driven stories that he can capture on the big screen so that he can capture the respect of his audience…

  24. Priscilla

    HA… black people ALWAYS on other black people!!!! haven`t seen the movie YET after reading these ridiculous comments SMGDH I must now… I totally agree with YOU THESPNATION, MAHOGANIE JADE BROWNE, NIKI if I could have LIKED y`all commits… if people DON`T like something DON`T support it O yes I LOVE TYLER PERRY`s MOVIES, all things by him… I bet if he came and gave some of you a chance to APPEAR in any movies you`d JUMP at the chance even if you can ACT or not…HA

  25. Beez

    Gosh, I’m glad I’m not the only one who had problems with that whole setup. During the plane scene, I got quite queasy, hearing her say no and watching him get further aroused by it. It was like he (as the Devil, of course), enjoyed watching her turn into his fickle plaything, laughing as she throws a tantrum about whatever it is their relationship was about. What I don’t understand is why she was the only one who seemed to have received any sort of harsh ending. What happened to the Devil? Why did Lance Gross have to be all (unconvincingly) nerdy with his struggle tears at the thought of losing his highly professional, Jesus-loving wife? Why was Brandy there again?

    I’m just glad my friend and I weren’t too loud with our “did that really JUST happen?” comments the whole movie.

  26. Lurker

    1. “It’s just entertainment”: There is nothing wrong with just consuming entertainment for its entertainment value, but you have to acknowledge that entertainment is both a reflection of our culture and a reinforcement of many negative messages. Critically examine the entertainment you consume doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t “get” that it’s “not real.” It is more than entertainment, in that it’s perpetuating the idea that “no means try harder,” which is part of rape culture.

    2. “Tyler Perry should be raped”: Either rape is something that is never okay, or it’s something that is sometimes okay under circumstances you find acceptable (to “teach someone a lesson,” “put him in his place,” “he deserves it,” etc). I believe that rape is something that is never okay. If you believe otherwise, you’re just agreeing with rape culture that someone can “deserve” to be raped but disagreeing on what counts as “deserving.” This is, in fact, perpetuating rape culture.

    3. I haven’t seen the film (and this post increases the likelihood that I will not), so I can’t speak to the “she just said no because she’s married” argument. From the OP, however, it sounds like this is unclear in the film. And frankly, I feel like the REASON behind the “no” is irrelevant, especially when all you’re getting is “no.” “No, I have to get up early tomorrow,” “no, I feel a bit queasy after those fish tacos,” “no, I have a moral problem with us having sex,” or “no, I do not want to have sex with you now or ever” — it doesn’t matter. You have to respect the NO, and tbh I feel like even if a reason is given, you should tread very, very carefully in trying to “change his/her mind.” Sex isn’t like dessert, it’s not something you should be coaxing people into having with you, even if they wind up enjoying it. (Might you miss out on a couple partners by accepting the first “no”? Probably, but that person will quickly learn not to say no when s/he means yes!)

  27. Carolyn

    Thank you. I am disappointed he chose not to respond to your friend’s concerns.

  28. Markeeda Monét

    Mr Perry reflected a REAL LIFE situation and I am pleased. I believe it was important for him to leave us wondering because it will minister to different people in different ways because we all have had different experiences. Open your heart and your spiritual eyes and you will clearly see the message and/or warning God is using Tyler Perry to bring to us. Just as an Angel sent by God says, when approaching Gods people, “Fear Not, The Lord has sent me with a message”. HEAR THE MESSAGE. All My Love, M~

  29. Franco

    the only way i would feel after seeing a rape scene is if the perpitrator was punished. no is no and needs no explanation

  30. Mr. Shorts

    I think the real spoiler is the fact that such a conclusion can be drawn by so many who haven’t seen the movie. I’m indifferent on the subject of Tyler Perry for a number of reasons. I am not saying it was a great movie or I will be adding it to the collection. I saw the film and while we assumed it was rape after seeing the scene, her compliance wasn’t a surprise and called the rape theory into question. Not because it was a Tyler movie but because we all know this happens. I think what he was attempting to do is show her desire while at the same time giving way to the situation being bad all the way around. Not saying this is right but I think “intellectuals” tend to criticize “Perry” far more harshly. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” had a full out rape scene in it and received all types of accolades. I think it all depends on what lens you look at it from. Tyler is far from perfect and I have my thoughts about him, but I think he gets a bad wrap. Not to say he shouldn’t be held accountable, but I think he is only doing what he knows. I don’t expect any more or less from him, because he has shown his capabilities in that area. I think what he is doing now, in starting to open the door to other writers and directors is a bigger story. There are stereotypes in all films featuring black people because often they are true. Perry is no different. He attempts to put a message in his movies whether the attempt is good or not he still makes the attempt. That scene was bothersome, yes, but is it his obligation to appease? To me it’s no different than The president on Scandal forcefully having sex with Kerry Washingtons character and leaving her in a closet. A show in which many people watch and enjoy. So if we are to critique Perry harshly we should consider other attempts to do the same thing he did. This Rape culture isn’t native to black movies, music or even black culture. As an artist I think we don’t get better quality in art/movies because we don’t go out and support. Hollywood is still very much racist and biased and closed off to many blacks looking to offer contribution. Broken City was directed and written by Blacks but received little support. There are countless others. I am thankful for the post nonetheless. I’d be interested in seeing how these same critics felt about Django…

  31. Bazinga

    lol, why are you even watching Tyler Perry’s movies to begin with? It only takes one to realize he makes glorified soap operas, marred by the same BS television soaps have. The reason Perry’s not receiving backlash is because he’s entirely irrelevant outside of his core audience, a core audience of zealots. No one in the film community cares about that guy.

  32. Carolyn

    I’m pretty sure the Lord doesn’t approve of rape, or consider it a useful vehicle to teach lessons. Just a guess from having read the Bible many, many times.

  33. Freedom

    For someone who has made a fortune capitalizing on black women’s pain and abuse, Perry doesn’t think much of women. Or wealthy dark-skinned men. Other than Jesus and Shemar Moore, who is Perry really here for?

  34. Carolyn

    If you actually read my post, you would have seen that I also mentioned the passionate lovemaking scene that followed. Thanks.

  35. Tee True

    I have to say, this is my least favorite movie. I cringed a few times ABCs had a case of wth while watching this movie. The movie wasn’t well put together either, it was missing “seasoning.”

  36. Margo

    So glad you addressed this issue. As I watched this scene I was absolutely appalled.

  37. Keith Josef

    Thank you SO much for this especially important charge against Perry and his ongoing attack on black women. I’m sharing this with others. I often feel that Perry may be using women characters to interrogate his own questions/judgments around his own morality. If that’s true, then, like many men, he sees black women as expendable and puppets to play out his own concerns and angsts. Overt or covert, literally or figuratively, it certainly appears Perry doesn’t think much of women. Let all the black men cease the exploitation, misuse, fetish, romanticizing and/or diva-making of black women.

  38. Arthur Dawson

    I didn’t see the movie…and based on what I’m reading I won’t. As a black man, I hate to see films that show black men disrespecting black women. It only promotes fear and distrust. And God knows we do not need anymore of that. Tyler should know better! I hope the brother gets it right next time…or we gonna have to cut a switch and take him behind the woodshed!

  39. Firene

    Excellent critique, well-written piece. Thank you for calling this out and sparking discussion. It deserves discussion and Perry deserves to be called to answer for this scene. It’s horribly constructed, the message terribly fumbled unless his intention was to advocate for date rape.

    Like many of you, I’m not his biggest fan, but I’ve found room in my heart to appreciate his efforts and contributions to black entertainment in the past. HOWEVER …I’ve always been uncomfortable with what he compromises in order to do that. I’m always wondering if the cost is justifiable. His portrayals of women and relationships has ALWAYS been troubling in what they suggest. I think this rape scene is the result of someone trying to be creative and to question/critique a sensitive subject that he was not prepared to do. Otherwise, his artistic skill in executing the scene was extremely lacking and no one on his set/crew knew better enough to point out the seriously, deeply problematic messages in this imagery.

    I’m still at a loss for words on the scene, but I’m sure the words will come pouring into my hands in about a week.

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