WARNING: Spoilers for Tyler Perry’s Temptation ahead, although if you’re reading this, you probably already know what they are.
When I heard that in his recent film, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Tyler Perry gives his female lead HIV as moral punishment for pursuing an affair with a sexy tech mogul while still married to her upstanding, if boring, husband, I resolved to see it as soon as possible, so that I could write about it here. [And a confession of my own: in the interest of camp, I wanted to see Kim Kardashian’s big screen debut.] I’ve been too busy to get to the movies, but Naina Khanna of the Positive Women’s Network–USA has an op-ed at poz.com that probably says everything I could have said, and more. Khanna writes–as an HIV-positive woman of color herself–in damning terms about the violence, both cultural and medical, that Perry’s work does to women of color living with HIV:
For the estimated 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, Tyler Perry’s Temptation preys on the worst of all that. For this, I charge him with at least 300,000 counts of self-doubt and recrimination, a million moments of fear and hopelessness, hundreds of failures to disclose, countless refused HIV tests, thousands of missed medical appointments, suicides, homicides, and setting us back in our HIV response for over than a decade.
I must confess to never having seen any of Perry’s work, but he is an extremely successful filmmaker as far as the box office is concerned, even as he regularly draws the ire of film and cultural critics alike. At an academic conference at Northwestern, appropriately titled “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable,” black academics picked apart Perry’s work for all of the ways that it reinforces norms of heterosexual patriarchy and conservative Christianity, both of which seem to be on display in Temptation.
No doubt, HIV/AIDS is a serious disease, and one that disproportionately affects African American women. Representations of that reality should do justice to the complexity of HIV-positive women’s lives, struggles, and successes. The disease is not a blunt storytelling instrument of moral condemnation, and using it as such is an insult to the women whose everyday courage proves otherwise.
Positive Women’s Network blog post on Temptation (Waheedah Shabazz-El, a founding member of the group, longtime member of ACT UP Philadelphia, and oral history narrator for this project, is quoted therein)