Madea must die, long live Madea
For almost 20 years she’s made me laugh, she’s made me extremely angry and she’s made me cringe at being a black man – but she has also made me think.
For all those sins, my favourite aunt Madea has been condemned to death, and the execution is going to be carried out in front of millions of people. When Tyler Perry, the creator of this curmudgeonly, short-tempered, expletive-a-minute movie and stage character announced this week that he was killing her off, a part of me whooped “Hallelujer!” But no sooner had I done a celebratory jig at this piece of news than I found myself reminiscing about my long relationship with Madea.
I was first introduced to her through the movie Madea’s Family Reunion, the laugh-a-minute jamboree in which notable celebrities such as Maya Angelou and Cecily Tyson had cameo roles.
Madea, who is 68, has a lifelong criminal record that began at age nine with a charge of petty theft. As she grew up her crimes progressed to illegal gambling at age 18 and later evolved into cheque fraud, insurance fraud, identity theft, vehicle theft, assault, attempted murder, etc.
In A Madea Christmas, she confides in her niece Eileen that she sold “trees”. When Eileen asks if they were Christmas trees, Madea replies that “when you smoke ‘em, they make you feel like it’s Christmas”.
Madea gets even in a bad way. When asked why she felt the need to get somebody all the time, she answered: “Well, when you gettin’ got and somebody done got you and you go get them, when you get ‘em, everybody’s gon’ get got.”
Madea has a series of pet peeves: disrespectful youth, gum popping, rude people, lazy people, people who don’t return shopping carts, adulterous people and “people who are just plain stupid”. She is also a firm critic of men that sag their pants. Some of her redeeming qualities: a young woman, newly married to a rich abusive man, is taught how to fight back – making for good cinema – in the movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Madea likes fairness, as we see in Madea Goes to Jail. She forklifts a car out of a parking lot after a miscreant “steals” space she was trying to nose her car into.
Madea is mentally strong and offers nurturing advice to struggling individuals whom she cares for. In some of the movies we see her offering succour to former jailbirds, and she also takes in abandoned children.
Madea, who has appeared in 11 movies, 12 plays and numerous TV programmes, has made Tyler Perry very rich. The Madea movies have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars.
Perry dons a wig, makeup and dress to portray the tough-talking elderly black woman. But now he’s had enough of her. He broke the news on a nationally syndicated TV show this week: “It’s time for me to kill that old bitch. I’m tired, man. I just don’t want to be her age, (still) playing her.”
Tyler Perry is 49, Madea 68. She will make a final cameo appearance in a farewell stage tour and in next year’s A Madea Family Funeral that is likely to be watched by millions. Based on Perry’s admission, it may be the profane matriarch who will be laid to rest.
I have this love-hate relationship with Madea which has seen me watch all of her movies, and even buy some of them. My kids roll their eyes. Who still buys DVDs, and of Madea, nogal?
Every time I see her, I am taken down memory lane, to the township I grew up in. Her dress sense and her refusal to beat about the bush remind me of many old women I’ve known in my life – real-life aunties from my family and neighbourhood.
Artistically, she reminds me of Gibson Kente’s style – all that melodrama and the tendency to hit the funny bone a bit too hard. Like a Kente play, a Madea movie must have a moral lesson, and it must be spelt out so that even the dumbest viewer is under no illusion she is being preached to. In the world of Madea subtlety is a no-no.
In the prime of his career Kente was sometimes reviled by serious theatre critics and playwrights, who preferred the works of his contemporaries such as Matsemela Manaka and Maishe Maponya, who produced thought-provoking theatre about the black condition.
Kente was accused of making buffoons of black people – the same charge that has been levelled at Perry by his detractors, especially the movie maker Spike Lee. That criticism is easy to understand. There were moments when I felt angry at Perry for making black people dim-witted, buffoonish, superstitious. Sometimes I thought Perry would do anything for a quick laugh, unwittingly reprising black caricatures of back when black people in the movies did not have their own voices and were mere puppets at the mercy of white directors. In his long-running fight with Lee over this, Perry has been unrepentant: his films are meant as entertainment and should not be taken so seriously.
He continued to sock it to Lee: “I am sick of him talking about me. I am sick of him saying, ‘This is a coon, this is a buffoon.’ I am sick of him talking about black people going to see movies. This is what he said: ‘You vote by what you see’ – as if black people don’t know what they want to see. I am sick of him … he must shut the hell up.”
Lee must count his blessings that he never encountered Madea; he only crossed swords with puny little Tyler Perry.
What I also know is that if the conscientious Madea were based in South Africa, she certainly would have beaten Malusi Gigaba with her handbag around his head, delivering a blow with each word: “Whose. Child. Are. You? Didn’t. I. Tell. You. It’s. A. Sin. To. Play. With. Yourself? ‘specially. With. A. Phone. In. Your. Hand? Now. Your. Hand. Job. Is. Out. Of. Your. Hands! These. Fools. Are. Laughin’. At. You! Go. Wash. Your. Hands!” SMS us on 35697 using the keyword MADEA and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50. By participating, you agree to receive occasional marketing material.
Tyler Perry as Madea and Malusi Gigaba