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Another Reason Why Madea Movies Are Tough to Watch


Early this year, the ever-mounting series of unprecedented, paradigm-shifting, earth-shattering changes our world was undergoing culminated in perhaps the least predictable event of all: Tyler Perry received an Academy Award. Granted, it was the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, given for outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes, and not for any film work, but still. Perry has managed to be hugely philanthropic, and create the most impressive studio in the world today, largely due to the massive success of his early Madea films and plays (and some very wise financial decisions, of course).

Despite this, Perry retired Madea in 2019, after the absolute zenith of phoning it in for a Madea movie was released; A Madea Family Funeral. In interviews, he seems tired of her, and has claimed he only intended to use the character once but audiences clamored for more. That is an understatement, and, ever a man of the people, Perry provides; Madea will return in... A Madea Homecoming. And yet, many audience members leave Tyler Perry films, not only unamused, but uncomfortable. Why? This article is not here to ask whether or not Madea upholds unhelpful or problematic stereotypes of any kind, there's more than enough of that, it's here to express why, ignoring every shoddy element in the periphery, down to the theme and very core, Madea leaves a bad taste in our mouths? The answer can be gleamed from the very first film to weather Hurricane Madea.

The aggressive, foul-mouthed, and devoted Madea, a nickname portmanteau of ‘mother dear', was inspired by the mothers, aunts, and other important women who had an impact on Perry's life. His veneration for these matriarchal figures extends to his attitude towards Madea in his films. Madea has a tenacity the younger characters who require her old-school guidance lack. Most of these characters are middle- to upper class suburbanites who have bent and mellowed themselves, suppressing the qualities which make Madea charismatic to audience members. They therefore find themselves unable to adequately face the problems in their lives. Madea has no such qualms. She is raucous, violent, and invasive, qualities the films frame as ‘no-nonsense' tough love. In some films her methods are proven to be a little overzealous, complicating more than resolving, but the movies inevitably confirm that Madea knows best.

Even in Boo! A Madea Halloween, probably one of the most lightweight entries of the series, a father has lost control over his daughter through his absence and lack of discipline as a parent; enter Madea, who scares of all of the rowdy and disrespectful teens straight, and socks one or two for good measure.

So even in the breeziest of Madea comedies, the films follow the character's lead and often push conservative, religious, and regressive values. “Tyler Perry has the unique ability to combine humor with a positive message” one audience member writes on IMDb. Perry has covered spousal abuse, adultery, prostitution, addiction, racism, religion, on and on. So, what messages, methods and madness does Madea bring to her first film? The character was actually first introduced in the play I Can Do Bad All by Myself, one of a number of Madea-centric plays, but we'll be looking at her first on-screen appearance, one which solidified the nature of her character and role in Perry's films, and made her a cash cow: Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

Helen, our heroine, is in a superficially perfect marriage with Charles, a vastly wealthy attorney. At home, however, Helen is bored of being a stay-at-home wife, and struggles to keep her marriage afloat, whilst Charles verbally abuses and cheats on her. One day, Charles drags her kicking and screaming out of their mansion so that his mistress can move in. Left with nowhere else to go after commandeering a U-haul driver's truck, Helen moves in with her grandmother; Madea. This is where several subplots kick in, in most cases Madea manages to smack some sense into the troubled souls from afar. Through the goings on, Madea is placed on house arrest after attempting to literally split all of Charles' belongings in half with a chainsaw, Helen (who reunites with her mother and gets a job) and the U-haul driver develop feelings for each other, and Charles is shot by one of his clients, paralyzing him. Feeling obligated to take care of him, Helen moves back in and responds to his verbal cruelty with physical assault and brutal humiliation, partly as revenge for her mistreatment. She refuses to feed him, leaves him alone in a room to soil himself, tosses him headfirst into a hot tub, etc. Madea and Helen's mother advise her that she will only be able to move on once she has forgiven Charles. Helen assists in his recovery, but Charles only walks again during a church service. The two divorce and Helen marries the U-haul driver. His name was Orlando. It was not important.

Ostensibly, the movie resolves any grievances with Helen's revenge by making it clear that forgiveness is her salvation. This is not quite good enough, the film rushes through the forgiveness, and relishes the melodramatic vindictiveness. Not to mention, it is for her own sake that Helen decides to forgive Charles, not because what she's doing is wrong. In fact, in the narrative Charles becomes a better man for having been subjected to agony. Helen was a caring wife well before this, making the only factor that could have moved Charles to grow as a person the extended suffering. The film, no matter its inextricable flip-flopping, as Helen forgives and forgets seemingly with no effort at all, makes it clear that brutalizing Charles was righteous and beneficial. It is fundamentally framed as a story where a woman takes command of her life by taking after the most commanding woman in her life, never mind the fact that said woman is played by a man.

It's clear that Perry admires things about Madea and her apprentices that are to some viewers, abhorrent, not in a literal sense, obviously Perry is not making Madea films to advocate wonton sadism, but he does find it funny in the context of the movies, and it's only natural that some people might disagree.

"She would beat the hell out of you but make sure the ambulance got there in time to make sure they could set your arm back, you know what I mean? Because the love was there inside all of it. I know it sounds really strange, but that's the old-school mentality. That's why I think the character is so popular, because a lot of people miss that type of grandmother; everybody is so worried about being politically-correct that she's no longer around."

And yet, Diary of A Mad Black Woman is one of Perry's best received and most earnest comedies, so why do so many viewers look past, or agree with his ethos? People that enjoy the Madea movies do so because they relate to them, and don't take them very seriously. It's as simple as that.