Madea must die, long live Madea

CityPress - - Voices - Fred Khu­malo voices@city­ TALK TO US What are your best Madea mo­ments?

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

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