Judging by the only Tyler Perry film I’ve seen (For Colored Girls), the black-cinema pioneer is, in all sincerity, a wonderfully messy auteur. The diversity he brings to the multiplex is remarkable, particularly for his niche audience, but, in truth, said audience deserves an ambassador with a bit more polish and panache. For every inspired bit of casting (like Taraji P. Henson in I Can Do Bad All by Myself), there seems a stunt player like Jill Scott or Keyshia Cole tossed in the mix, in an ongoing effort to fold the urban music community into his filmic landscape. And, if evidenced only by the over-the-topness of his signature character, Madea, restraint doesn’t seem to be an item on Perry’s menu.
Still, barring the parade of poster rip-offs he used to herald Madea’s Big Happy Family, the filmmaker’s movie marketing is, in general (and by apparent contrast), notably highbrow. Never has he resorted to Hollywood’s go-to, block-headshot approach, nor has he chosen to forgo art for the sake of showcasing his stars. Even the Big Happy Family spoofs reflect his interest in graphic design, and the new one-sheets for his forthcoming Temptation only further prove that interest.
The movie’s lead image is about as biblical as it gets, with a sinful snake coiling up in the shape of an Eden-plucked apple, and its one edge offering the profile of a female—presumably temptation’s victim, and thus, the true sinner. Subtitled Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Temptation continue’s Perry’s trend of faith-tinged melodrama, featuring an adulterous woman (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who, when failing to practice what she preaches, cheats with a hunk (Robbie Jones) who, according to the film’s trailer, will “take [her] straight to hell.” Temptation’s additional posters are equally, if not quite as tastefully, drenched in sin, selling sex in a manner at once explicit and minimalistic. The second one-sheet, which seems to be making the rounds the most, features the letter T faintly superimposed on a nude woman’s body, whose careful, not-quite-naughty pose aligns with the letter’s shape. It may look like the front of a romance novel, but it’s undeniably sexy, and the same goes for the third design, which boasts a bitten lip akin to the famed Rocky Horror mouth, and keeps the religion theme going with the tagline, “Seduction is the devil’s playground.”
Again, these posters continue what’s become a rather strong tradition, with the first, in all its Rubin Vase influence, recalling the teaser for The Family That Preys. A personal favorite is the pink and blue city-lights collage piece attached to I Can Do Bad All by Myself, which handily topped Temptation’s sexiness with that come-hither shot of Henson. I Can Do Bad is also one of many Perry features to be sold with a floral theme. In an image whose use of profile mirrors that of Temptation’s flagship design, Diary of a Mad Black Woman merges a female face with a fuschia lily, and Daddy’s Little Girls achieves something similar with a sunflower. Even the simplistic poster for Good Deeds has a certain rare chicness, landing it on my shortlist of candidates for the best posters of last year.
The question is, is all of this an elaborate case of bait and switch? With (arguably) high commercial art drawing crowds to that which, by assumption and reputation, is comparatively low? To a large extent, film marketing is manipulative by nature, typically promising what the product in question is hardly equipped to provide. But the issue of Perry’s oeuvre is very unique in indeed, and one this consumer finds insulting and terribly intriguing all at once. I won’t be seeing Temptation, and I likely won’t be seeing Tyler’s next film either. But I’ll surely be keeping my eyes on the ads that precede it.