Tyler Perry’s legacy as a successful playwright, screenwriter, television show creator, and orator is now a part of collegiate discourse.
As the fall semester kicked off in August, Oxford College of Emory University began offering its brand new course: “In the Language of Folk and Kin: The Legacy of Folklore, the Griot and Community in the Artistic Praxis of Tyler Perry.”
The master class, which is the first of its kind in the country, was developed and is being taught by Tameka Cage Conley, an assistant professor of English and creative writing. It is offered to 14 freshmen students as part of Oxford’s Discovery Seminars.
Students are tasked with drawing comparisons between the entertainment mogul’s works and those of Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ntozake Shange, and others. “Ultimately, I thought it was vital to recognize that Perry was telling the stories about aspects of our communities that are usually ignored and people who are often ignored,” Conley told NBC News on Wednesday (Sept. 28).
One of Perry’s most iconic characters is Madea. The often brash but resourceful and unshakable head of the family has appeared in several plays and movies. Speaking about Black matriarchs, Conley said that they “come from a community and come from a time that knows how to survive. And because they know how to survive, they can sustain us while they’re telling us to keep going.”
“The Madea character is a caregiver at the core. She’s tough, but that toughness is not without love,” Conley told digital outlet Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Student Sarang Arun added that she felt “like I personally had a Madea in my family in my grandma—a strong woman figure at the front of our family who was essentially taking care of everything and always there to protect us … Tyler Perry does a great job at depicting dynamics in a lot of minority families, not just Black families.”
The curriculum for the course, which is only offered this semester, also includes students delving into the Acrimony creator’s upbringing, his multitude of achievements, which includes launching his own movie studio in East Point, Georgia, and his cultural impact.
“I want these young people to have a safe space to engage every element of who they are … They can bring their full selves to the classroom, as we sit at the table together. And so I thought that Tyler Perry is the person who enables me to be a conduit for them to feel safe,” said Conley.
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