Temptation or tired trope of “bad” women getting their due

Tyler Perry creations are notorious for their commentary on sexuality and relationships of men and women in the Black community. Familiar anchors of Christian down home wisdom and a “good girls go to heaven” theme dominate his works. His 2013 film Temptation follows the familiar formula down to a tee. The story is told through a psychiatrist to a client about her sister. Conventionally attractive Judith is in a loving marriage with her awesome pharmacist husband Brice who she has known and loved since childhood. Judith is bored as hell in her marriage and increasingly under the pressure of identity crises. A daughter of the rural South transplanted to the big bad city who has the remaining tethering of her Christian mother’s dominance, her insecurities are ripe for exploiting. At her job as a counselor with a Matchmaking firm ,she finds herself drawn to the irresistible charm and sexiness of a rich , handsome , he- devil Harley. The sexual energy from these two are off the chain from rip. She’ll leave her good husband and get with rich man who sexes her, woos her, introduces her to the finer things in life all to the horror of her Christian mother and boring ass husband. They warn her of the impending doom of stepping away and out of her shell. It’ll come out through a typical Tyler Perry connection that her husband works with a woman who is the abused ,fearful HIV positive ex of the rich man. Brice will rush to save Judith from herself and find her beaten and in a drug induced stupor at the rich man’s house. He predictably beats Harley’s ass and seemingly saves the day . We’ll learn in the end that the Judith is HIV positive and she gets her medicine Brice every month. We’ll see him having a wife and young child and seemingly happy. Judith walks off with a noticeable limp and deflation about herself. It is the saddest walk away ending, she is so broken and yet almost too passive about it all. At the end, we find out that the psychiatrist and the “sister ” are one in the same.

I finished the movie thinking how sort of cliche’ it all is. How simplistic and predictable and really limiting of a tale. It reminds me of the Adam and Eve story, it reminds me of the Jezebel tale, it reminds me of every piece of media that promotes “a woman’s place” and the crux of pain for a woman is in seeking pleasure. At the end of the movie, I feel so bad for Judith who was not able to find happiness. Her husband had forgotten her birthday two years in a row. She retained so much love for this man , had played the role of good wife , had only ever had sex with her husband and it got old, it got stale. But I think there is a disservice done to women when a story says essentially ,” Don’t be a whore and you can have a good ending”. It is framed like if Judith had just suffered in silence, in her unhappiness, under the yolk of the Christianity and been a good girl, that all would work out. But silly Judith chasing an orgasm, enticed by a sexy, attentive, albeit dangerous, abusive wolf in sheep clothing deserved to be so broken at the end and HIV positive to boot. It also frames one becoming positive as a punishment for so called ‘immoral behavior”. Good ole Tyler is definitely a scholar of the Black Christian south . He knows what sort of plot lines will resonate with self flagellating audiences invested in an upholding of oppressive structures like marriage and love.

I watch Tyler Perry’s work for entertainment purposes and shout out to him for keeping so many Black folks working and accessing their thespian dreams. I don’t watch it as grand masterpieces that will comment realistically on Black Southern life. But I think that he can do better with his messaging sometimes. It just seems so reductionist at times, it doesn’t allow for nuance, it doesn’t humanize characters like Judith as being more than good or bad but human. What if a Black woman who was unhappy could reach out and grab happiness without incurring the wrath of the gods from deviating from the script? What if Judith could have explored dating and love in a healthy , non- judgmental, non- by the book type of way? She rightly points out several times throughout the film how long she and her husband had known each other. It is inevitable that one is not the same person at 15 as they are at 25 or 35. Shout outs to all those who do get married at 18 and remain happily married. But it is not all that common and it is normal for people to grow up and grow apart. What if on -screen a Black woman could have pleasure without the requisite pain? What if so -called “bad girls” could be happy and find peace in their “bad ways”? What if men were ever forced to be good and do the work in these films and stories? Why does it feel like for Black women that we have to “earn love” vs being loved for who we are and not how the world feels we should be? And contending that even when we behave happiness is not a guarantee.

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