Thursday, February 10, 2011
There is no Defending 'Madea's Big Happy Family'
The above video is the preview for Tyler Perry's new movie, Madea's Big Happy Family. I don't see how it is possible to watch it and not be overwhelmed by the coonery and buffonery. I am tired of seeing the defense that Tyler Perry employs Blacks, when the result of this employment is the suggestion that Blacks are inferior. It is clear that Perry has been influenced by Amos 'n' Andy. Though we are desperate to see faces that look like ours, if the film does not serve the purposes of uplift, it actually moves the project of achieving equality that much further away. Our various stores need to be told and this is far removed from speaking truth to power.
When White people see Perry's movies, they are not laughing with us, they are laughing at us. This distinction must be made clear. Perry feels that he is serving a specific audience, and in this he would be correct, because Whiteness will always make room to see Blacks being publicly ridiculed. There is a reason that the most critical movies starring Black actors has required the investment of Black celebrities to be made. When Spike Lee was making Malcolm X, he had to turn to Tracy Chapman, Bill Cosby, Janet Jackson, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, Prince, and Oprah Winfrey to raise enough money to finish the film, yet, Perry who regularly presents characters that reduce Black people to caricatures, has no problem getting his movies made.
Then there is the issue of Perry himself, who regularly puts on a dress and participates in a genderized minstrel show. The man has the nerve to say that Madea -- MADEA was created to honour Black women. He is not the first Black men to wear a dress and make this claim however, combined with the continual shaming of Black women in his productions for being too independent, too dark skinned etc., how could we possibly see what he does as honoring us? If Tyler really wanted to honour Black women, putting on a dress and acting like a fool would never occur to him.
I know that I have said much of this before in regards to Perry, but each time a new movie of his comes out, the rage is born anew. I know that people will sit and watch this nonsense believing that because it is set up as a comedy, that it is not harmful. Much oppression and marginalization happens in comedy because we reduce the perpetuation of isms to harmless joke. By using this medium, Perry is able to perpetuate stereotypes which are reductive and because Whiteness is greatly invested in the reduction of people of colour, the tropes quickly become normalized. Madea needs to go away, and until she does, every dollar we spend in the theater supporting these movies, represents capitulation to those who are determined to 'other' us.