Saying Goodbye to Madea
Say what you want about filmmaker Tyler Perry and his legendary character Madea, but the Madea franchise changed Black cinema forever.
Madea showed that it is O.K. for Black filmmakers to just have fun.
Madea showed that it is O.K. to leave the cinema feeling better than when you walked in.
And Perry showed what to do with money, power and influence and that is to open up doors for other people who might not have gotten the opportunity if it were not for the success of the Madea franchise, which included films, cartoons, books and theatrical plays.
Perry burst onto the theater circuit when I was still a college student at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
To be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Perry until Jet Magazine put him on the cover for the first time, I think to promote his first movie, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”
I vividly remember my mother schooling me on how popular the character Madea was.
Nevertheless, I still did not immediately see “Diary of Mad Black Woman,” until somehow I got my hands on a bootleg copy at the ghetto movie theater known as the barbershop.
Unfortunately, I believed all of the negative reviews “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” received until I watched the movie for myself.
Sorry about that Tyler.
Trust me, I have since made up for that illegal act and skepticism by purchasing numerous tickets to your movies, plays and books.
Furthermore, I faithfully watch “The Have and Have Nots” on demand when there is not a basketball game on that I want to watch.
I love the show.
And I immediately loved the movie, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”
What I liked the most about Perry’s debut film was what some critics hated, the emphasis on the Christian faith.
Perry had a way of being preachy and real at the same time.
Far too often, Christians try to portray themselves as super-Christians to the point that real people cannot relate to them.
Perry’s characters were always relatable to me because I saw my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in the characters of his Madea films.
Besides leaving the theater with a strong Christian message, moviegoers also left with tears in their eyes from laughter.
I always thought Perry was more of a business genius than a true filmmaker because he understood people.
The New Orleans native, born Emmitt Perry, Jr., probably understood innately that after a hard week’s work or hard day’s work, many people do not want a harsh history lesson during their leisure team.
Many people in the African-American community could not understand how Perry’s movies made so much money but historical dramas like “The Birth of a Nation” and “12 Years of Slave” did not do as well financially.
Many said that the fact that Perry’s movies made more than real life stories about the struggles of Africans in America is because the African-American community was apathetic and not woke enough.
The truth of the matter is Perry knew that African-Americans were no different than any other race of people.
The African-American community wants to be entertained and wants an escape from reality just like everyone else after dealing with the stress of real life on a daily basis.
I fail to believe that “Schindler’s List” or “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” made more money than a Marvel superhero movie.
It is not because superhero movies are more important than movies depicting the horrors of the Holocaust.
The reason why superhero movies do so well is the same reason Perry’s movies did so well at the box office.
Many people would rather see a superhero with superpowers save the day than to have their day end watching a little boy or girl die in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Furthermore, many people already know what happened during the Holocaust, so why would people want to spend their weekends reliving such an atrocity?
The same thing goes for movies depicting slavery and segregation.
I also vividly remember trying to get my mother to watch “The Rosa Parks Story” years ago when it came on television.
Her response to me was why would I want to watch a movie about racism during the Jim Crow era when I lived that reality everyday until I became a young adult?
She would much rather laugh with Madea, Joe, Cora and Brown.
The fact that she walked away from Madea movies feeling uplifted because of the Christian message was icing on the cake.
I think Perry always understand the psychology of human beings and that is why he is a more successful businessman, even though other African-American writers and directors like Spike Lee and Barry Jenkins are better filmmakers.
Early in Perry’s career, Lee harshly criticized his films for its coonish and buffoonish characters.
Many African-Americans realize that some White people have no regular interactions with African-Americans.
Therefore, their only exposure to the community is through the media.
While some of Perry’s characters were stereotypical, why should African-Americans spend any time worrying about what some White people think about us?
Although stereotypes can lead to tragic consequences, making movies to please White America always sounded slave to me.
Letting someone else control what type of art you produce is giving him or her way too much power over your life.
The reason why many people in the African-American community stress about some small instances of racism is because we allow people that are not even on our level to dictate what we do and how we do it.
No wonder some races feel that they are superior to us.
Many feel that way because we let them think that their opinion of us matters in the first place.
But what I admire the most about Perry is that he never tried to gain Hollywood, or White, acceptance.
He simply made the movies, television shows, plays and books that he and his fans wanted to see.
Perry never wanted to go to Hollywood.
He wanted Hollywood to come to him on his terms.
That dream has become a reality with Tyler Perry Studies in Atlanta, which produces many of the hit movies and television shows of the day.
So while fans say goodbye to Madea, thank Perry that many are also saying goodbye to the old Hollywood business structure where African-American talent had to go to Hollywood to gain acceptance and exposure.
Thanks to Perry, many are now coming to us for that opportunity.