Tyler Perry’s Acrimony plays into the many stereotypes of black women but in retrospect, it did a whole lot than that. Amidst the frenzy, boos and tantrummy reviews is a salient albeit pertinent discuss of the role of Melinda’s family in the avoidable tragedy.
Acrimony intends to enrage. The movie was shot in eight days and loaded with an almost boring instructive narrative with screen actions driven only by the performance of the lead actress, Taraji P. Henson. Perry’s one-woman show is not surprising, in the past, actresses like Kimberly Elise and Janet Jackson has been central to Perry’s dramatic thrills and stereotypes. In Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Perry is stirred by Elise, a character with a knack for agony, he also exploits the spitefulness of Jackson’s character in the film, Why Did I Get Married?. In I Can Do Bad All by Myself, Tyler Perry rides on Taraji P. Henson’s aggressive and spunky dramatic persona, and he did that again in Acrimony, his latest and most extreme variation of ‘the unstable black woman’.
The movie opens with a courtroom scene where a judge issues a restraining and counselling order against half-hearted Melinda, Henson’s character. She is seen next puffing cigarette in a therapy session with an unappeasable anger. The therapist is off camera and that directs our focus to Melinda’s vicious mood, a characterizing effort that sets the tone of the movie. For the next one hour, we followed young Melinda, played by Ajiona Alexus to when he met her future husband, Robert (Lyriq Bent) while Henson’s dispensable and dictating narration rattles in the background.
Robert, charming and hellbent on creating a self-recharging battery was able to blarney Melinda into giving him everything he wants and eventually into marrying him despite her family’s disapproval and resentment of the union. Never mind that this happened after Melinda caught Robert cheating on her, drove into Robert’s trailer house in a rage and damaged her ovaries.
Melinda and Robert stayed together and she spends all her late mother’s money on the family and Robert’s invention. It didn’t take much time for the family to go into a financial drain and the series of events that followed that phase opened the door for Melinda’s family to salvage the union and save their sister.
Tyler Perry shapes Melinda Gayle into a crazy woman. The drain on her money, her shifts between jobs, Robert’s refusal to get a job and eventually, the suspicion of Robert cheating on her is too much. All these points out the obvious fact that she divorced Robert because she’s had enough. The contestable spark for this decision, however, is that Melinda’s family came back to show her how wrong she was for marrying a man they warned her against. In fact, her sisters played more roles in the divorce process.
Going by the statistics, Tyler Perry’s films are commercially successful, this is because he tells the stories that Hollywood ignores. His continuous tap into the socio-cultural lives of the black community might be problematic and stereotypical but we cannot completely ignore the fact that it mirrors society.
According to the U.S Census on Black demographics, only 45% of black households have a married couple compared to other races like 80% for whites and 70% for Hispanics. Also, according to this demography, ‘an African American child is three times more likely to be born out of wedlock than a white child and, on average, will spend only six years in a two-parent family compared with fourteen years for a white child and thirteen years for a Hispanic child.’
One can say that it is such notions that shape Perry’s theatrics. In Acrimony, Melinda’s mother is the breadwinner of the family, it’s her house and her money. It’s quite obvious the sisters grew up without a father figure like 55% of other black households.
There is a popular notion among Africans that it takes a community to get a divorce. In Lester L. Barclay’s The African-American Guide to Divorce & Drama: Breaking Up Without Breaking Down, he wrote “When you’re Black, you’re not just married to one person, you’re married to a family. You’re married to a community. You may be married to a church. We’ve always embraced the concept that it takes a village. In many instances, people’s outside influences have a significant impact on how we view things.’ Black families play a very significant role in the affairs of married couples. In Acrimony, Melinda was able to ignore her family’s discontent and went ahead to marry Robert, but the union lasted for a while until her sisters came back to motivate her divorce.
It is also important to establish that Melinda’s divorce with Robert was based on a suspicion of infidelity fueled by an overly conclusive discovery by her sisters. Unlike Melinda whose rage with Robert is founded on how the union flushes her life and efforts into a drain, her sisters’ disapproval of Robert came earlier before Robert’s infidelity and subsequent red flags, it is, in fact, safe to say that the early resentment of the union was base on class status.
Tyler Perry’s Acrimony is not well received by the black community, in fact, many of his films have been criticized for amplifying negative stereotypes of black identity. One of such outburst is Jamilah Lemieux’s open letter to Perry where she criticize him for his “old stereotypes of buffoonish, emasculated black men and crass, sassy black women.” But his tropes cannot be completely discarded, his latest effort, Acrimony might just be telling us something obvious in the black family. Contextually, Melinda’s union with Robert would have lasted till he hit the deal with Prescort if not for her family’s interference,