I’ve never seen a Tyler Perry movie. And it’s never been on my to-do list.
I was slightly familiar with the plays. I can remember seeing bootlegged copies of the play on DVD in the hair salon.
And when I say bootlegged copies, I don’t mean pirated copies of an official DVD release. Those came years later. I’m talking about someone sneaking a camcorder into a theater and secretly taping a live performance. And then burning it on DVDs and selling them. Trifling!
What I knew about the Madea plays didn’t interest me. A man dressed in dragged who mispronounced words and fell down a lot? Nah. I’m good.
And then, Tyler Perry, Madea’s creator, became not just a sight gag but a bonafide phenomenon. At some point, I began following his story with interest, even if I didn’t see his films.
I love this man’s story: watching Oprah and being inspired to write and then saving $12,000 as a used car salesman to stage his first play. Which flopped. Twice. And he still kept moving. Flying under the radar of the mainstream entertainment industry. And then he had Hollywood scratching its head when Diary of A Mad Black Woman blew up. I love it!
So why not see his films?
From the reviews I saw and the bits of pieces I saw on occasion at a friends home or in the hair salon, I couldn’t see how any of the Madea movies could earn my $10.00.
I’ve always felt like if I wanted to see my people cut up and act a fool, I could just, you know, go to the corner of William and Walnut Street in East Orange and just watch. For free.
And the drag thing always annoyed me. It’s just not funny to me.
I know that Black men in drag for comedic effect is not new.
I can vaguely remembering watching the Flip Wilson Show with my dad. And his character, Geraldine, was a sassy, neck-rolling woman with bugged eyes.
And of course, there was Martin.
I can’t front. Sheneneh cracked me up on occasion. But there was always something that made me mildly uncomfortable about it. I think it had something to do with the fact that the woman these men portrayed were always caricatures. And they grossly exaggerated the words and actions of women in a way that was embarrassing. Is that the way women behaved? Was that really funny? How come women never dressed as men and exaggerated their behavior?
So, yeah. I was good on Madea.
But then, this morning, after I dropped the girls off at school, I turned on Steve Harvey and heard Tyler Perry pushing his new film, Madea Goes To Jail.
He talked about the fight in Hollywood for respect, even after all these years of solid sales at the box office. He talked about how the ratings for his cable sitcom, House Of Payne topped American Idol, Oprah and CSI in Black households.
He talked about how Black filmmakers are consistently able to secure funds after one of his movies come out. Because they do well and Hollywood remembers all over again that Black folks actually do go to the movies.
And of course he talked about his studio.
The brother has his own studio people. How could I not support him?
I drove right up the Parkway to Clifton, New Jersey to catch the first screening of Madea Goes To Jail.
(Who knew that you could see a movie at ten in the morning? For six bucks!)
When I got to the theater, I was surprised to see that there was a small crowd of people gathering to see the film. All Black folks. All women.
And there was a certain electricity in the air. Like we were all going to the same family reunion but hadn’t been introduced yet.
I felt like I’d been missing out all these years by turning my nose up at Madea movies. My people were here, smiling and waving at people they didn’t know because we all had this common connection. A connection I’d missed because I couldn’t be bothered. How dare I!
There was a huge poster of Madea right next to the theater. I watched two women take turns having their photo taken in front of it. I went into my bag to see if I could take a picture of them being all excited about standing next to Madea.
But before I could get my camera out, they were done.
“Oh here baby,” said the moviegoer. “Give me that camera. Go on over there. I’ll take your picture with Madea!”
“Oh no ma’am,” I said. “I was just—”
“Go on now! Hurry up before the movie starts. You gon’ leave that hat on?”
I took my hat off.
“Baby, maybe you should leave the hat on.”
I had my picture taken next to Madea, feeling like an absolute idiot as the moviegoer and her friend beamed at me.
“Perfect!” she said. “Now let’s go. You hear Tyler on Steve Harvey this morning?” the woman asked, as we made our way to the theater.
“I did,” I said.
“I’m coming back tonight with my husband,” she said. “But I wanted to be here for the first show. Cause tonight it’s gonna be so crowded.”
We filed into the theater and I felt good, seeing my people coming into the theater, ready for some laughs.
And then came the woman with a newborn baby in a car seat. Come on.
And then came the woman with the toddler who was already crying before the previews even started. Are you serious?
I started thinking bad thoughts. Stuff like, “see this is why I don’t go see movies like this. No one brought babies to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”
I put the bad thoughts aside, tuned out the babies and settled into my seat. I wanted to forget about the recession and the economy. And just be entertained. And I wanted to do it while supporting Tyler Perry. Go Tyler. Make me laugh. Bring on Madea!
I was ready to realize what I had been missing all these years.
I just got back from the movie.
I want my six dollars back. And the money for gas I spent getting to the movie.
This film was just awful.
Who are you people going to see these films? Were the earlier films better? Why didn’t anyone tell me that Madea was a horrible criminal who is mean and awful to her children? I thought Madea was a sweet mother-figure who dispensed sage advice with tough love.
This was not a cohesive film. This was a collection of one-off scenes loosely strung together to make a “plot.”
Rudy Huxtable Keisha Knight-Pulliam plays a hooker. And her weave was so distracting that I had to force myself not to walk out of the theater in disgust.
Not for one second did I buy that Rudy Keisha was a prostitute. Not even a HALF second. And that’s a good thing. Girl, please. You graduated from Spelman. Just as cute as you want to be. You will always be Rudy. And that’s okay. Dark and edgy will not be your domain.
To make matters worse, Rudy’s Keisha’s character was supposed to be a heroin addict living on the streets. But she had the whitest, straightest veneers I have ever seen. Every time she opened her mouth to speak in ghetto vernacular about how she needed a fix, all I could think was, I wonder who her dentist is?
Derek Luke plays an everyman hero with a pencil thin moustache that irked me for the whole ninety minutes. (Sidebar: Love you Derek. Stand up Jersey. But I gotta keep it real.) Derek’s character is engaged to be married to a light-skinned-good-hair type who turns out to be evil. And she’s best friends with a dark-skinned Black girl who is always swiveling her neck and pointing her finger at someone. And there’s a male best friend for comedic relief. And they are all lawyers. In what looks like an all-Black law firm.
This film is overwrought and preachy. And besides Madea, (and a young lady named Vanessa Ferlito), the acting is mind-numbingly bad. While my people in the theater were laughing out loud and saying, “yeah! That’s right Madea!” I was sinking in my seat and groaning.
And then I felt guilty about being embarrassed. I felt less Black for not being able to sit back and laugh with my fellow theatergoers. I felt like the New Negroes Zora Neale Hurston talked about in her autobiography, Dust Tracks On A Road.
My People! My people! From the earliest rocking of my cradle days, I have heard this cry go up from Negro lips. It is forced outward by pity, scorn and hopeless resignation. It is called forth by the observations of one class of Negro on the doings of another branch of the brother in black.
For instance, well-mannered Negroes groan out like that [My people!] when they board a train or a bus and find other Negroes on there with their shoes off, stuffing themselves with fried fish, bananas and peanuts, and throwing the garbage on the floor. Maybe they are not only eating and drinking. The offenders may be “loud talking” the place, and holding back nothing of their private lives, in a voice that embraces the entire coach. The well-dressed Negro shrinks back in his seat at that, shakes his head and sighs, “My people! My people!”
This is exactly what I was muttering to myself as Derek Luke had his Big Acting Moment with Viola Davis. And when Rudy Keisha broke down in tears in her Big Acting Moment. And when the whole movie turned into a morality play once Madea went to jail.
And then, finally, (spoiler alert!) Derek realizes that his light-skinded fiancé is evil and out to put his friend Rudy Keisha in jail for seventeen years. He finds this out five minutes before he’s supposed to marry his fiance. And instead of just not showing up at the wedding, he goes to the altar. And when it’s time to recite his vows, he instead tells the whole church that she’s the villain and that she’s horrible.
My people, my people.
I can say something good about this film: Tyler Perry is electrifying as Madea. The character doesn’t make me laugh. But the way he captures who she is a pleasure to watch. I can’t front on that. Tyler Perry IS Madea. And he seems more comfortable in drag than he does on screen as himself.
Which begs another question that I’m not supposed to ask. Are we allowed to talk about the fact that Tyler Perry seems to be a tightly closeted gay man. What? I can’t say that? Oh come on! Why in the holy Luther Vandross are we not talking about this? Sigh. Never mind. Moving on.
I wanted to like this movie. I was ready to write a post about how I’d discovered Madea and loved it! And how I couldn’t wait to rent all the movies I’d missed. And how I was a convert. And I wasn’t going to stick my nose up at Madea anymore.
I can’t say any of these things. This movie stank.
And the next time he puts out a Madea film, I’ll be right there.
Who cares if it’s not up my alley? Who cares if it makes me want to shrink into my seat. I was surrounded by people who were loving every minute of it. They were talking back to the screen when Madea was preaching: “That’s right! You got to forgive!”
And ultimately, Tyler Perry’s success can only mean good things for Black folks in Hollywood.
And there’s another reason why I’ll still support him. Before the movie started, I saw the previews for a movie called Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire.
Tyler Perry and Oprah are producing this Lee Daniels film. In the five minute preview I saw, Mo’Nique scared the shit out of me. Mariah Carey threw me for a real loop. And this new actress, a young woman named Gabourney Sidibe, broke my heart immediately.
This movie looks like it is frighteningly dark, true and real.
And if me plopping down my six bucks to watch Madea means that maybe Tyler will be that much closer to having more films like Precious made then take my money. I’ll be right in the front, scribbling notes to myself about how the plot points make no sense.
And when it’s over, I’ll even take my picture with Madea.
Dear readers, will you be going to see Madea Goes To Jail this weekend? Have you seen the earlier films? Did you actually enjoy them?
As always, I’d love to hear from you.