By Ebony Utley | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Sunday, 14 April 2013.
Tyler Perry’s Temptation
gets a lot right in its portrayal of infidelity, but it gets a lot
wrong in its portrayal of the main character, Judith. Infidelity is
certainly not a new topic for Perry. You can pretty much pick a movie
and someone is cheating inside his storylines. But Temptation is the first film of Perry where infidelity drives every aspect of the plot.
and Judith fall in love when they are mere children. They marry when
they are teenagers. The world happens to be a hard place. They are poor
adults. Future years of unfulfilled dreams pave a path of resentment for
Judith. Brick by brick, she follows the path out of her current life
and into the strong arms of a wealthy, dark, handsome, dangerous
stranger. Marrying young, accruing resentments, neglecting your partner,
and having workplace opportunities are all contributing factors to
infidelity. In the brief moments that we see Judith actually talking
about relationships, her observations and advice are accurate. I’m not
mad at the way Perry presented infidelity in the film. I’m not mad that
the story was about a woman’s infidelity. I am mad at how Judith was
punished for being bad.
badness exists in stark contrast to her husband’s goodness. Brice is a
good Negro. He works hard, he’s cautious about everything—work, sex,
conflict, and life in general. He doesn’t have money or material things
but loves his wife even if he doesn’t pay her a whole lot of attention.
He’s a good man. In fact, Judith tells him exactly this before she
breaks his heart, Tyler Perry style. Cue one of his angry Black woman
on the other hand, is bad even in a blouse buttoned to her chin and a
wrinkled skirt to her ankles. She’s unwomanly in contrast to the women
at work. She doesn’t care about appearances. She’s cold to her client.
She’s impatient with her husband. Since she’s always thinking about the
future, she can’t quite seem to appreciate what she has. And despite her
dissatisfaction, she passively mentions her concerns but doesn’t fight
for herself. I watched Judith on the big screen and wanted to be nothing
she falls for Harley. With him, she expresses her righteous
indignation. She stands up for herself. She makes plans to open her
business. She becomes sexier. She is no longer a bad example of
womanhood; she’s a badass. But her newfound agency is tainted by drugs
and alcohol. Judith walks with confidence, money, and power only because
another man gave it to her. The representation of Black femininity that
I wish I saw more of, is presented as a facade. When Judith is at her
most assertive, she’s battered for finding her voice. Perhaps, she would
have died had her good Black man not come back to rescue her. Cue the
entrance of a well-chiseled working-class back man from a Tyler Perry
It’s difficult for me to see Temptation
without seeing Perry’s other films as context. Similarly assertive
characters like Judith have also been punished for not being good girls.
But being beaten is not the extent of it. Judith also contracts HIV. In
the trailer, Judith’s mother warns,
“He gon take you straight to hell.” After seeing the movie, am I
supposed to interpret that hell on earth is having HIV? Harley’s ex-wife
also had HIV and she declared (presumably because of it) that she would
never find love again. Both arguments are wildly disrespectful to all
the positive people living fulfilling lives.
addition to reminding women that if they have an affair they may catch
HIV, Temptation conveys three other problematic missives.
1. Your authority (even as a relationship expert) will be tenuous as long as you listen to your feelings.
2. The path to hell is paved with desire.
3. Women deserve punishment for their poor choices even if those choices have some good outcomes.
watching the film learn that choosing to prioritize your authority and
recognize your desires (both of which are good) will lead to punishments
on par with going to hell.
nothing happens to Harley—the man who gave her HIV. He’s never
mentioned again after Judith’s rescue. There are no consequences for his
spread of the disease. Presumably he disappears with his talent, wit,
charm, and money to seduce another woman. At the end of the film,
Judith is alone and lonely, slightly hobbled and beaten down by life.
Dressed überconservatively and on her way to church, she watches her
ex-husband with his new wife and child.
message is that men deserve their desires; women do not. Everything
Judith learned about herself during her affair is seemingly undermined
and undone in the face of her losses. Before and after the affair, she
was never quite good enough. I concede that Judith finally got her
marriage counselor practice, but now her work is all she has. Cue Tyler
Perry single workaholic woman character here.
women bear the brunt of punishment in Tyler Perry’s morality plays. Of
course, any time a woman has unprotected sex, there is the risk of
catching HIV, but Perry’s heavy-handed morality is disproportionately
distributed. It’s Perry’s money and Perry’s movie. His conclusions are
his prerogative, but as a woman who knows Judiths, it’s important to
recognize that despite Perry’s fire and brimstone, being bad by someone
else’s standards could actually be good for you.
Ebony Utley, Ph.D.
is an associate professor of communication studies at California State
University Long Beach. She is currently working on her second book
Shades of Infidelity (www.shadesofinfidelity.com) about women’s experiences with infidelity.