Tika Sumpter’s support of Tyler Perry: ‘You have the right to turn the channel’

The ratings don’t lie

After premiering in May, The Haves and the Have Nots has done well ratings-wise, even prompting OWN to extend its show order to 32 episodes.

Reviews, on the other hand, haven’t been spectacular, many calling it a soap-opera-style cop off to legendary TV programs like Dallas or Dynasty.

Sumpter, who got her start on the daytime series One Life to Live, doesn’t classify the show as a soap opera, however she appreciates the noteworthy comparisons. Given they are “iconic” programs with proven longevity, she’ll take it.

Portraying a vixen, the actress also refutes the theory that all Perry’s programs carry some underlying moral high ground.

“What is morality?” She questions. “What’s the barometer? Who’s saying this is moral and this is not? Are you talking to a pastor or are you talking to a teenager? It depends on whom you’re talking to and what is the measure…[Candace] is totally comfortable using her body. The body is a temple to some people, but to her it’s a tool.”

As the roles for African-American actresses in Hollywood breathe new dimension, Sumpter believes this character exhibits facets that Perry’s critics have previously argued are not on display in his work.

“The thing I love about Candace is she’s really trying – even though she doesn’t go about it the right way– she’s really trying to do it for herself,” Sumpter points out. “She’s not relying on a dude to pull her out of the gutter. She’s using the opportunities she’s getting, definitely, but she’s not leaning on him as a crutch and I love that. She’s standing on her own two feet. Whether she’s fighting dirty, she’s fighting for her life, for her career, she’s standing on her own.”

The Olivia Pope effect

Along with the OWN gig, Sumpter recently played a part in BET’s new series, Being Mary Jane, which premiered in July but will officially debut next year.

Both roles follow the lead of Kerry Washington’s resounding heels as Olivia Pope in the hit ABC series Scandal.

They spotlight a galvanized, refreshing take on black women, which has long been denied in the entertainment industry.

“Black women have always been that way, it’s just whoever owns the network is not putting them on there,” Sumpter observes. “What happens is the water gets murky sometimes with reality shows…When Olivia came around it was like, ‘Okay. That’s how my friends talk. My friends are smart. My friends graduated school.’ Not saying everybody has to graduate college, but there’s a certain level of friends that you do have, and that you surround yourself with because you don’t want to be the smartest one in the room. You want to learn something.”

She adds, “People want to see women of color, smart women, feisty women, whatever. They want to see these women, and they don’t want to have only one option. Whether it’s brown or Chinese, white. There doesn’t have to just be one type of person on TV; there needs to be a variation, and I think that’s what Olivia Pope did – or Kerry did – for us.”

Empathy for Trayvon Martin

With the subject of race now dominating the headlines in light of the Trayvon Martin story, Sumpter expresses dissatisfaction at the general state of things, but confidence in the fact a discussion has been ignited.

When news broke of the Zimmerman verdict, she tweeted her own reaction and observations, contrasting the jury’s decision to the results of Michael Vick’s dogfighting case.

“It just feels like a dog has more rights then a human being,” she observes. “What I would hope is that the dialogue is now opened about race. I don’t know what makes people think that because we have a black president, we’re in a post-racial society. This is an exciting time for us to speak about how we feel, and speak about history and what has hurt us, and each other. Maybe that can lead to the path of healing and moving past things.”

Kevin Hart like Tyler Perry?

In addition to A Madea Christmas, Sumpter will soon co-star in Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.

She calls Hart an inspiration, and incidentally, believes he’s got a lot in common with her current employer.

“Kevin’s one of the guys that definitely followed in the path of Tyler Perry in the way he owns his movies,” remarks Sumpter. “He definitely got that from Tyler – a trailblazer.”

Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @CourtGarcia