It was just around 11:00 and the party was still raging. Some guys exchanged weak pickup lines to disinterested girls. Another friend, Pamela, was taking a shot of bacardi 151 to celebrate her loss of good judgment. Admist all of this, I stood in a circle of friends, discussing movies.
“Did you see Star Trek?”-Friend A says with more enthusiasm than a 12 year old girl at a One Direction concert. “I tried, but I didn’t see past the lens flares!” Friend B says, with more wit than the eyebrow of John Oliver. Friend C rolled her eyes and said, “I was distracted by Tyler Perry showing up in the middle.”
The music stops. People drop their drinks. Pamela takes another swig of bacardi 151. Friend C widens her eyes, realizing that she’s said the two words that are never to be mentioned in a social setting. All at once, arguments break out. “MADEA IS HILARIOUS!” “I’M TIRED OF HIM!” “HE REPRESENTS OUR VOICE!” “HE SUCKED IN ALEX CROSS!” Within moments, punches are thrown and glass shatters. The chandelier falls from the ceiling, and Dementors emerge from the chimney. I barely escape through the front door with my drink. Gasping for breath, I shake my fist at the sky and yell, “TYLER PERRY!”
This night didn’t have to happen.
Tyler Perry is a divisive figure in some communities, and arguably Hollywood itself. If you are not familiar with his work, allow me to take you through it. After some years of failure and obscurity, New Orleans born Perry found success with his originally written and directed musical, I Know I’ve Been Changed. From then on, he found success releasing these plays onto video and then eventually turning them into Hollywood movies. Tyler Perry is now worth about 400 million dollars today.
So what’s the problem?
As you knew/could guess from the title picture, Tyler Perry is black. That is not the issue that most take with him. The issue lies in Perry’s body of work. Most of his stories revolve around characters, often black men and women, go through extremely adverse situations and overcome them with faith and hard work. Although that doesn’t sound too controversial, there are certain trends that are repeated. One of the main characters is usually poor, struggling to pay the bills. There are single mothers and fathers left and right with kids as well. And abusive relationships, physically and verbally often make an appearance in these films. Although these films are usually critically hated (Rotten Tomatoes gave his first Hollywood outing a 15% out of 100), they continue to make tons of money. Why is this?
Most people believe this is all about the content of his movies. A large number of the black community in America may have grown up in households similar to the ones that Perry depicts. And if they didn’t, they may know or be aware of what it’s like. The humor also has a lot to do with black and Christian culture, another common thread with the audience. While not 100 percent of Perry’s audience is black, his repeated use of the above formula has got people thinking that he caters to the wants and desires of the black community in order to make his money.
And that’s absolutely true.
Look at a movie that’s in theaters right now. Seriously, any one. Guardians, The Giver, Grey:The Fifty Shades of, whatever. Each caters specifically to an audience. Comic book enthusiasts, nostalgic readers and people who haven’t discovered that there are websites that do what fifty shades does but much better are the target audiences respectively. And they need to be targeted. No matter how good a director makes a movie, it needs to make money. Otherwise the Director can’t make more movies. In the art world, if they don’t produce, they die. So yes, let’s face the fact that Tyler Perry makes his so-called “Madea” movies for a black audience.
Unfortunately, some members of the black audience have rejected that. They have a case. When your culture is consistently depicted in the same way, people outside of your culture can start to assume that you will look and act a certain way. There’s also the notion of escapism. We don’t go to the movies to watch a guy at his 9-5 job punch in and out while doing simple tasks (although I’m sure there are some movies that could do this well), we go to see a guy punch out gangsters from 9-5. So some members of that black audience see Madea movies less as an escape and more as something that looks like home. Of course, there are still many who love Perry’s movies for the exact same reasons they are hated. It seems as if you have to choose a side.
But you really don’t.
I”m a fan of Perry’s “Daddy’s little girls”. Idris Elba and Gabrielle Union? Yes please! Sure, some of the acting was a little hokey, and some jokes fell flat, but it was all over enjoyable. I don’t care for a lot of his other films. Mostly, it’s because he keeps making similar movies over and over again. Sure, the situations are a little different, and the characters often change, but overall, there’s romance, abuse and Madea over and over again. I want to see something new! And I know Perry is capable of that.
The house becomes quiet. I peek into the window, curious to see what has transpired. Unconscious bodies litter the floor. One hand twitches slowly, holding up Madea’s Family Reunion on DVD. Tyler Perry walks through the living room (I forgot to mention that he usually comes to these parties), looking at the results of the chaos. He stops and stands in the middle of it all. After surveying the room, his eyes lock with mine. I can’t resist the words that fall out of my mouth, tumbling to the floor like Pamela after the third shot of Bacardi 151?
“Are you going to keep making movies like you have been?-I ask, “Cause this will keep happening if you do.”
Perry smiles and says, “And If I don’t?”
The words slowly come to me, “Then no one else will. No one else can. Madea will cease to exist in Hollywood. We will cease-“
Perry kneels down and begins to pray. He is a reverent man, after all. I say nothing, letting his prayer continue. I can’t make out the words, or see his expression, but I know that whatever he’s saying must be important. To Tyler Perry, they may be all that keeps him going.