Upon writing this article, the words of Spike Lee came into my mind: We’ve got a black president and we’re going back. The image is troubling and it harkens back to Amos ‘n’ Andy. And, for what it’s worth, he seems to be right: Tyler Perry does perpetuate the same stereotypes concerning the African-Americans.
However, there has to be something in his Madea movies that makes them so appealing to the public. There has to be some statement underlined somewhere, some statement that is somehow strangled by the poor directing, poor editing, and the above mentioned prejudices. If not, then these movies wouldn’t be so successful.
And in order to understand this fact, we need to know whether or not we can really understand the message. As late Roger Ebert experienced this, movies shouldn’t be treated all by the same standards (which doesn’t mean at all that some standards are better than others). It is the same as judging Bollywood movies by Hollywood’s standards.
Tyler Perry has been around for many years with Madea and each movie has been a box-office hit. Furthermore, he himself recognized on several occasions that the character is just bait: it is dressed in all these prejudices in order to express simple statements concerning God, faith, love, and so on.
But these prejudices are something with which the African-American community can relate. It would be false to say that these preconceptions don’t exist in our contemporary society. And an even bigger mistake would be to point at other movies, who present the same community in a different, less biased way.
I say this because it would be as if replacing a prejudice with another – and the most current TV shows and movies present African-American female characters (and not only) just as the strong characters that will always save the day. Thus, I can say that a new stereotype is being created.
The thing is that all of these old and new labels fit this community, just like they would fit any other. And if Tyler Perry succeeds in getting through with his statements, then he should be left to do so. We, as a society, need to be reminded that skin tone is just skin deep (if I may say so). What counts is on the inside.
So, no matter how prejudiced the Madea films are and no matter how buffoonish some characters seem to be, if the message gets through then everything is OK.
As a conclusion, in my opinion, not just the Madea films present stereotypes, but all the films do so. Ultimately, each movie presents a caricature of reality, from the director’s point of view. So what counts the most isn’t the way they look, but what they say.