Is Madea bad for black folks?

Is Tyler Perry’s Madea bad for black folks? That’s the question some people are asking lately. Some are turned off by the cross dressing black male Madea played by Tyler Perry.

Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy isn’t thrilled about Tyler Perry films.

madea

What’s So Funny About Madea? Nothing.

By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I went to see the Tyler Perry movie “Madea Goes to Jail,” in which Perry plays a wise-cracking black grandmother, Madea, short for “Mother Dear” and ebonically pronounced “muh deah.”

With an extensive criminal past that includes “supersize stripper,” attempted murderer and check fraud artist, Madea is a near-cult figure among many African Americans, especially women. Thanks in large part to them, Perry’s comedic creation debuted as the No. 1 movie in America over the weekend, raking in $41 million and 34 percent of the weekend moviegoing audience, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

At the AMC Magic Johnson Capital Centre 12 in Landover, where Madea is being shown 14 times a day, I was hoping to get a clue as to why this man in drag is so popular. And with the movie featuring guest appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Dr. Phil, Judge Mathis and Al Sharpton, perhaps I’d even get in a laugh or two.

Boy, was I wrong — on both counts.

All around me you could almost hear the funny bones cracking — deep guttural laughter coming not only from kids in the audience but from my peers in the AARP set, as well.

And there I sat, silently ranting: There is nothing funny about this black man in pantyhose. And where is all of this cross-dressing-black-man stuff coming from, anyway? First, comedians Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence star in high-grossing movies as the fattest, ugliest black women that Hollywood makeup artists can conjure up, and now here’s Perry with his gussied-up version of the same butt of the joke.

By the way, I don’t want to hear diddly about Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire or Milton Berle in high heels. Having a black man play super mammy is not the same thing. Perhaps it would be were it not for America’s perverse, systemic and centuries-long efforts to humiliate African men and women and turn them into slaves.

The only good a Madea movie could possibly do would be to remind us that the scars of oppression are deep and enduring, often operating below the level of consciousness, then breaking out in the most bizarre manifestation of self-hate and self-sabotage, including pathetic images on the big screen.

Of course, Perry’s fans don’t see it that way. When I asked some women in the theater if they were at all uneasy about Perry in wigs, lipstick and rouge, they clucked tongues and rolled eyes in a manner that Madea her/himself would no doubt approve.

“Oh, please,” snapped Darlene Johnson, 51. “It’s just comedy.”

Yeah, and misogynistic gansta rap is just music.

Said Sheena Young, also 51: “He’s just multitasking. His initial budget didn’t allow for him to hire all the people he needed so he played them himself. It’s awesome.”

I’m not taking away anything from the 39-year-old Perry’s resourcefulness and ingenuity. He pulled himself up by the bootstraps from a low-income household in New Orleans, started writing and putting on stage plays about Madea (supposedly a composite of women in his life) and went on to become one of the most successful filmmakers in America.

He has a beautiful home and his own studios in Atlanta. He hires lots of young black actors and production personnel and makes considerable contributions to worthy causes.

He is awesome.

It’s just that his movies are awful.

Here’s a typical scene:

Madea’s brother, Uncle Joe, also played by Perry, is a crusty old coot who breathes with the aid of an oxygen tank while smoking marijuana throughout the movie (he even wears a bong around his neck). Madea, ever the boss woman, scolds him mercilessly about the dangers of mixing fire and oxygen. And — here’s where the audience howls — as Madea waddles past, her behind wide as a doorway, Uncle Joe cracks: “King Kong ain’t got nothing on her.”

How’d you like to see that on a movie marquee: Madea the black woman as King Kong? That’s about as funny, say, as a dead monkey cartoon from the New York Post?

It’s not a sign of respect but one of disdain to portray black women as some updated Jemima (that’s what a white character in the movie calls her) from the antebellum South. Sure, all of Perry’s fans claim to know someone like Madea. But in truth, we know nothing — only that she is aging and irrationally angry, existing to clean up everybody’s else’s mess, a linebacker of a house servant whose unmet emotional needs remain a mystery even to the great Dr. Phil himself.

We may laugh at her, but the joke is on us.

This week’s Entertainment Weekly also has an article about Tyler’s films and whether he’s creating stereotypes.

Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies

”Madea Goes to Jail” has grossed more than $75 million to date, but is its creator reinforcing stereotypes? And even if he is, how do you weigh that against the good he’s doing? Inside black America’s secret culture war

By Benjamin Svetkey, Margeaux Watson, Alynda Wheat

If you happened to buy a ticket to Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail without knowing what you were getting into, you might think you’d stumbled onto a cheery comedy about an overgrown granny with anger-management issues. A black Mrs. Doubtfire, say, with car chases and reefer jokes. You’d never suspect that you had strayed into the midst of a culture war — one that’s been simmering inside the African-American community since before blackface. ”I loved working with Tyler Perry, but he’s a controversial, complicated figure,” says Viola Davis, who costarred in Madea Goes to Jail and recently snagged an Oscar nomination for Doubt. ”People feel the images [in his movies] are very stereotypical, and black people are frustrated because they feel we should be more evolved. But there are very few black images in Hollywood, so black people are going to his movies. That’s the dichotomy. Tyler Perry is making money.”

A lot of money. Jail has already earned more than $75 million, making it Perry’s highest-grossing film to date. And his seven movies — starting with his 2005 big-screen drag debut as Madea in Diary of a Mad Black Woman — have grossed more than $350 million combined, putting him on track to join John Singleton and Keenen Ivory Wayans as one of the most successful black filmmakers ever. He may already be the most divisive. At a time when Barack Obama is presenting the world with a bold new image of black America, Perry is being slammed for filling his films with regressive, down-market archetypes. In many of his films there’s a junkie prostitute, a malaprop-dropping uncle, and Madea, a tough-talking grandma the size of a linebacker (”Jemima the Hutt,” one character calls her). ”Tyler keeps saying that Madea is based on black women he’s known, and maybe so,” says Donald Bogle, acclaimed author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. ”But Madea does have connections to the old mammy type. She’s mammy-like. If a white director put out this product, the black audience would be appalled.”

I’ve seen most of his movies including Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, The Family That Preys, Why Did I Get Married and Daddy’s Little Girls. But the only Tyler Perry movie that I really enjoyed was Why Did I Get Married. The Family That Preys was alright.  The rest of his movies were just okay. I haven’t seen Meet The Browns. I’ll catch that one on cable or Netflix like I did Daddy’s Little Girls and Madea’s Family Reunion.   I saw The Family That Preys through Netflix. I haven’t seen Madea Goes To Jail. I’ll catch that one on cable or Netflix.

So far Madea Goes to Jail has made over $75 million. I’m happy for Tyler cause it’s good to see a black director and producer doing well in Hollywood (even though he’s based in Atlanta) but with the exception of Why Did I Get Married, most of his films are just okay in my opinion.  Not surprising is the fact that there are some folks who are angry over the fact that Tyler’s movies are doing very well at the boxoffice.  Could it be a total dislike towards Tyler Perry from some white folks or anger over his depiction of black women and accusations of stereotypes from some black folks?  Check out the free for all at the IMDB message board for Madea Goes To Jail.

At a time when Barack Obama is presenting the world with a bold new image of black America, Perry is being slammed for filling his films with regressive, down-market archetypes. In many of his films there’s a junkie prostitute, a malaprop-dropping uncle, and Madea, a tough-talking grandma the size of a linebacker (”Jemima the Hutt,” one character calls her). ”Tyler keeps saying that Madea is based on black women he’s known, and maybe so,” says Donald Bogle, acclaimed author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. ”But Madea does have connections to the old mammy type. She’s mammy-like. If a white director put out this product, the black audience would be appalled.”

You can read the entire Entertainment Weekly article here.

One response

  1. O tried reading the hole thing but after I seen you say Mrs doubtfire (Robin Williams was okay) I seen all I needed. Tyler Perry speaks about God and loving Jesus no matter what you are going through something to many people have a hard time doing. Yes Tyler Perry is a man in a dress but some people might need a little comedy in their lives to allow a door to open and show them the glory of God. What God can do. Also it seems this is all about race. Whites this blacks that. Tyler Perry isn’t for one color he is for those who enjoy the healing of those who need it.

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