Am I the only black woman in America who doesn’t find Tyler Perry’s outrageous “Madea” character funny? It seems so. If “Madea” has wracked up over $150 million at the box office for Perry as experts have surmised, then what’s my problem, you ask. It’s very simple. I am not a fan of stupid comedy. Nor do I find this man-playing-as-a-woman stuff funny. Didn’t like Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie.” Didn’t like Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” And I definitely don’t like media’s portrayal of black women as loud, overbearing, manipulative, crude, and hideously overweight. Hence, none of Tyler Perry‘s “Madea” movies is in my fab-five. Madea, in my opinion, is neither funny nor endearing. She’s a caricature. Her complexion is lighter, and she may be, according to black people’s infamous reckoning, “big-boned” instead of obese, but there’s little difference between Madea and Eddy Murphy’s Rasputia character in “Norbit” or Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma character in the movie “Big Momma’s House.”
There are images of black women that white people have created for white people (Aunt Jemima and nappy-headed ho*s). And there are images of black women that certain black filmmakers have created for black people. Both are ugly caricatures of black women based on distorted information about us. Distortions of us by Perry, Murphy, and Martin are especially hurtful because they play up a stereotype of the black woman as unbearable, ergo unlovable. It’s as though they read Patrick Moynihan’s infamous 1965 report that said that black women’s overbearing strength is the cause of the disintegration of the black family and decided to make money on the report. Perry, Murphy, and Lawrence didn’t create the image of the fat, overbearing black woman, to be sure. The image has been around for decades. But they are the latest in a string of those who have profited shamelessly from the hurtful stereotype of black women. They don wigs and layers of latex to play overbearing, fat, black women with little interest in the psychological and interior world of the women they portray.
The constituency for Perry’s work is mostly churchgoing African-American women. His combination of slap-stick comedy, foot-stomping gospel music, an in-love and in-trouble black woman storyline, thrown in with a few life lessons about God, family, and love for good measure, appeals to his mostly churchgoing African-American female audience. “African-American women are the most loyal fan base you’ll ever have,” said Perry in an interview. “You don’t need to worry about eating for the rest of your life, because they will support you with everything they have. As long as you don’t marry outside the race, you are in.”
Let’s face it: black women in America have an image problem. On one side, we battle against images of the scantily-clad, nubile black woman, butt gyrating in front of the camera, dancing to the sound of misogynistic rap lyrics. On the other side, there’s the image of the loud, boisterous, mean, fat (often, middle-age) black woman who’s too crude and overbearing for any black man with any sense to desire. Whether your body size is thin, plus-size, or somewhere in between, we have to see these caricatures for what they are. They are not funny. Above all, we need to stop giving our hard-earned money to folks to poke fun at us while they laugh all the way to the bank.
If it’s true, as they say, that 70% of black women are overweight (and it probably is), it’s not funny. There’s nothing funny about the fact that black women suffer overwhelmingly from Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, early strokes, and other complications related to obesity. It’s not funny that black women suffer a greater threat of dying from heart disease than do women of other races. Movies by Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and even Tyler Perry’s upcoming television series “House of Payne” (which spares us “Madea” but features an overweight mother and father figure) do nothing to combat obesity in our community, and they do nothing to uplift black women.
Hey, sister in the second row with the jumbo soft drink and large box of butter popcorn. Let’s get outta here. This ain’t funny.
Meet me at the gym.