No, Tika Sumpter does not feel the need to defend Tyler Perry.
Yes, she thinks he’s inspiring and “enlightened.”
And yes, she finds her new role on The Haves and the Have Nots, Perry’s debut show for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a breakthrough for black actresses in Hollywood.
“When you’re knocking on the door and you’re pressing it forward, I feel like every little bit helps,” Sumpter tells theGrio.
The drama series casts Sumpter as Candace Young, the villainous daughter of a housekeeper at a wealthy family’s estate in Savannah, Georgia. Young becomes entangled in the homestead’s highfalutin ways, as affluence leads to dysfunction.
For Sumpter, the role challenges her to seek the nuance of character in a way she’s never done before.
“Sometimes for African-American actresses, we don’t get to play that role of the vixen or the lead woman,” she says. “Sometimes we’re just the best friend. This is the front-burner story. It’s full of so many complexities.”
Tyler Perry ‘empowers people every day’
Now complex may not be a word typically attributed to Perry’s projects, yet for the 33-year-old actress, who also stars in Perry’s upcoming film Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, the media mogul deserves credit for the road he mapped, paved and trekked.
She points to the fact that, despite an online petition to disband his partnership with OWN, The Haves and Have Nots has become the top-rated program on the channel. That, and his audience unswervingly shows up in support of his work.
For those who reject Perry’s depiction of the African-American community or who deem his humor lowbrow, Sumpter disagrees with the idea of dictating an artist’s creative content. There can be more the one type of comedy, and thus, she questions those who judge the intellect of others.
In other words, turn off the TV or quit complaining.
“You have the right to turn the channel,” she explains. “There are a lot of people who turn the channel on, who have made him this successful, so there is an audience. When we start making judgments on what’s lowbrow to some people, then you’re making accusations that this group of people doesn’t know what’s really good. I don’t think that’s fair…Don’t condemn a bunch of people who actually go to these movies for what they like.”
While Sumpter understands both sides of the debate, she admits it’s her “boss” she’s talking about, and regardless, Perry’s contributions say it all, loud and proud.
“He empowers people every day by employing over 400 people in his studio,” the actress remarks. “He’s the only black man with a studio; I’m talking about a studio lot…He’s come from no connection in this business to where he is now, a mogul. And if Oprah believes in him, that’s a great thing. She wouldn’t surround herself with people who are not enlightened and not smart.”