More than once, I’ve been asked by people ‘outside the target audience’ to explain the phenomenon of Madea and the Tyler Perry brand. My standard answer usually revolves around the fact that, while I don’t consider myself part of the target audience personally, Tyler Perry movies are the only films that come out that my mother and sister are guaranteed to show up for on opening weekend. That’s an answer, but still leaves the ‘why’ question somewhat unanswered.
The debate goes on about the ‘artistry’ of these movies (you notice no one claims Tyler Perry is a fad anymore), so instead I’ll try to explain, not as a filmmaker, but as a black man, why these movies are so important.
First let me go back to the statement I made about my mother and sister. There’s more than a few black actresses working steady now, there are a few shows on television that feature black characters exclusively. What Tyler has mastered is what Mel Gibson nailed (no pun intended) with The Passion of the Christ. Namely, if you cater a project to the ‘faith’ crowd, and word of mouth spreads about your project being good, it’s a virtual can’t miss. Nearly all the Madea projects began as successful stage plays, running primarily in the South. It’s no coincidence his base remains in Atlanta; black folks have known for years that Atlanta is ‘the black capital of the South’. The ‘pop stars’ who have longevity have to do it by constantly reinventing their image: people’s tastes naturally change over time. Conversely, the ‘artists’ who have the longest careers understand that people’s tastes change, so they never stray too far from their core audience. Tyler Perry understood this from the beginning.
At least in terms of the film I’m reviewing here, part of the appeal for his audience is the catharsis of hearing the main characters go through situations that rarely get addressed openly in the black community. I learned this setting up panel discussions in college, but to this day, there is NO subject matter that puts butts in seats like ‘Black Male-Female Relationships.’ I could make light of this, but there’s so many dynamics at play here (class issues, color complexes, dating outside the race), there have been best selling books written just on that subject. Literally.
The other major issue that the film brings up is abuse. There’s a long standing joke that black people don’t do therapy, but there’s also some truth to that. From my own personal experience, the number of ex-girlfriends, homegirls, and friends who have confided in me to being abused sexually, emotionally, or in some other matter is too numerous to mention. The even sadder truth is I stop being surprised by these confessions before I was out of my mid-20s. Of course, every community has these issues to different degrees, all I’m saying is that black people seem to have mastered hiding or disguising them (Chris Brown and Rihanna excluded of course). So to have someone, anyone air the ‘dirty laundry’ as these movies do, is naturally going to get people talking (a good thing in my humble opinion).
This entry might not have been as entertaining to you as some others, but hopefully I gave you a little insight into why these movies are so successful.
Back to the funny next month…