Tyler Perry’s ‘Mea Culpa’ is about as good as we should expect it to be 

OPINION: The latest Netflix film by Tyler Perry stars Kelly Rowland, Trevante Rhodes and a breakout star — paint.

Tyler Perry, Mea Culpa, Kelly Rowland, theGrio.com
Trevante Rhodes and Kelly Rowland as Zyair Malloy and Mea Harper in "Mea Culpa." (Courtesy of Netflix)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

At this point in your Tyler Perry journey — trust me, you have one even if that journey is intentionally not watching his movies — if you walk into a single film that includes the words “written, directed and produced by Tyler Perry” with expectations, any emotional heartache or disappointment you feel is your fault. Perry has done nothing to make me, nor you, your mother nor your cousin, too, believe that any film he releases is going to make sense, be well acted or be a thing truly worth talking about. The absolute closest he’s gotten to that was “A Jazzman’s Blues,” a film released in 2022 that felt almost as if Tyler Perry tried to take the writing part of the film seriously. The movie absolutely could have been better than it was, but it also could have been way worse. As it stands, “A Jazzman’s Blues” is simply just a regular ole, run-of-the-mill film. We know this because, for a film that seemed to be what Perry viewed as some sort of crowning achievement (complete with a backstory that included August Wilson), the film came and went with hardly a splash and has been largely forgotten. 

Truthfully — and we’ll get into this a bit more later — I feel that is the double-edged sword of Tyler Perry putting forth more effort and more production value into his films while still handling the lion’s share of the actual workload on his own: mediocre, forgettable film fare … like “Mea Culpa.” 

Let me say this here: I do not hate Tyler Perry or his movies. I’m fairly certain that I’ve seen all of his movies, and there are even a few I’ve watched multiple times like “The Family That Preys.” Back in 2022, in a review for “A Jazzman’s Blues,” I said this: 

“A Jazzman’s Blues isn’t a bad movie; it’s not good, per se, but it’s not bad. Nobody is in the background eating air like in A Fall from Grace (an actual bad movie saved by the collective group watch and social media ragefest that followed). A Madea Homecoming was a bad movie, as was A Madea Family Funeral and Nobody’s Fool (among others). He’s got bad movies. And to be fair, I think The Family That Preys, Daddy’s Little Girls and Good Deeds were good movies, and (amazingly) Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor and Acrimony were good bad movies.”

Point is, when I watch his movies, I’m not watching them assuming that they’re bad or that I will hate them. And to be fair, I recognize that a great many people happen to enjoy them. It’s not surprising when I peruse my social media and read praise for his films, even despite the vast array of shenanigans present. Kind of like the response to “Mea Culpa,” which, like all of his movies, has been panned by almost every film reviewer (why are film reviewers even reviewing his movies??) yet it feels like almost every single person I know has watched it. Let’s talk about why.

“Mea Culpa” is a legal drama (lol) turned “psychological thriller” turned absolutely nonsensical “Get Out” parody. It stars Kelly Rowland (which is why I watched it) as Mea Harper, a defense lawyer, and Trevante Rhodes (the reason why folks who didn’t watch because of Kelly Rowland watched) as alleged murderer Zyair Malloy. It also features other people who aren’t worth talking about (no shade) like most Tyler Perry films do and also Ronreaco Lee and Shannon Thornton from “P-Valley” in an absolutely terrible role. 

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Mea’s brother-in-law is an assistant district attorney who is also running for mayor whose mother is a HORRIBLE woman and allegedly has cancer. He’s prosecuting Zyair, who is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, whose skull fragments and blood are all over his place (this is important). Mea decides to take on Zyair as a client despite the insane conflict of interest, and she ends up sleeping with Zyair; the only scene truly worth watching in the entire film is when Mea and Zyair get to having some creative-arts sex with paint. Anywho, Mea’s relationship with her husband falls apart based on the cheating, and she ends up skipping the country to the Dominican Republic, but while there she runs into the woman Zyair allegedly killed WHOSE BLOOD AND SKULL FRAGMENTS ARE IN HIS APARTMENT. The woman is working at the resort. 

Let that sink in.

Anywho, Mea goes back to Chicago to help her brother-in-law (who just got Zyair to accept a plea deal for a crime he OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T COMMIT) exonerate Zyair, and then, all of a sudden, there’s a knife fight, big reveals, car crashes and arrests, and the movie has gone so far off the rails that I had to rewind scenes over and over SIMPLY because I thought I missed something. I missed nothing; the things I thought I missed were never there to begin with. One might say, it was very Tyler Perryian. Sure, nobody is eating air in the background of scenes, but major plot holes are present. 

Except there are fewer than usual. And that brings up this larger point when talking about the last two films by Tyler Perry — “A Jazzman’s Blues” and “Mea Culpa.” It seems like Tyler Perry, never one to care about criticisms about his movies, almost tried to make better movies. And by better movies, I mean movies with better scripts (or even an actual script) and plot development. “Mea Culpa” isn’t even terrible for 90% of the movie (for what it’s worth, neither was “Acrimony” nor “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor”; “Mea Culpa” was giving off serious “Temptation” vibes, by the way). But when it goes left, it goes so left that you can’t help but laugh at how much Perry takes the audience for granted. But here’s the thing: as far as movies go, I could see how you could watch this film and not be annoyed by it as much as other projects. 

The plot takes a bad turn, but it’s more restrained than in “Acimony.” The acting isn’t great but it’s not terrible. Kelly Rowland is fine. Trevante Rhodes is cool. As a film, it’s just … OK. And that’s the problem with it. Half of the charm of watching Tyler Perry movies is in the unexpected full-fledged shenanigans that make it hilarious and ridiculous. I don’t even think “Mea Culpa” was ridiculous so much as it was just … aight. When Tyler Perry makes a movie that has nothing but extreme characters (think Brian White’s character Walter Deeds in “Good Deeds”) it makes the movie feel like a parody of sorts. And with that frame, you’re able to write the film off as nonsense and not analyze it too much.

When Perry makes films like “Mea Culpa” it almost seems like he wants us to take the movie seriously and then it just becomes a mediocre film. It’s fine, but forgettable like “A Jazzman’s Blues.” Far be it from me to suggest Tyler Perry add people in the background eating air or coming up with a movie where Phylicia Rashad is a scammer imprisoning old women in her basement who commit suicide by jumping from 8 feet in the air. But I have to admit, I will remember “A Fall from Grace” for much longer than I’ll remember “Mea Culpa.” And I think that’s the case for most of us. Part of the reason Tyler Perry resonates so heavily in our community is because the films are such farces. “Mea Culpa” isn’t a farce, it’s just an average movie that we watched because of Kelly Rowland. 

With that said, I still won’t have expectations for his movies to get much better and neither should you. But I would like to suggest that if he’s going to make films that are a little bit better than his normal films and thus average, forgettable movies, by most standards, he should add Madea into every single movie for at least one scene, and they will all slide right back into the mold that keeps us all talking: shenanigans, shenanigans and more shenanigans while waiting for the next movie written, directed and produced by Tyler Perry. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.

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