Only in America could Tyler Perry, a talentless and middling playwright, act out his cross-dressing fetish in public to an endless train of wheelbarrows of money. His movies have grossed a combined half a billion dollars and his pair of televised mintrel shows are going strong on TBS.
It’s a true Horatio Alger story, going from unemployed and, apparently, homeless to a millionaire, cross-dressing star, director and writer of Step N Fetchit routines that are adored by a passionate and brain damaged fanbase and despised by everyone else. His case is among Hollywood’s most strange.
Every project he lays hands on is critically judged as poorly acted (with Perry being the worst of the bunch), crudely written, blandly directed and soaked through with half-baked unsophisticated religious lessons. On paper, such a combination would end with a trip to the direct-to-DVD bin and his Director’s Guild card cast into flames.
But, against all odds, Perry’s been wildly successful. He’s even backed by the queen of media herself, Oprah. I can’t figure it out. It’s one of Hollywood’s most improbable ascents.
Tyler makes bad movies
Let’s look at a few of his early movies to see how varied his material is. His first movie after a stint writing plays in Atlanta, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, follows a middle class black woman who is tossed from her house by her evil cheating husband so he can move in his mistress.
His next movie, Madea’s Family Reunion tells the tale of a middle class black woman who is routinely beaten by her evil fiancee.
In Daddy’s Little Girls, a middle class black man has custody of his children jeopardized by his scandalous ex-wife and her evil, treacherous boyfriend. Believe it or not, Perry does not surrender to his urges and dress up as a fat black woman.
Meet the Browns tells the original story of – wait for it – a hardworking black woman as she struggles to raise her children when her evil ex-husband withholds child support unless he gets sex.
Yeah…not quite versatile.
The whole cross dressing thing is just…weird
And not only because Hollywood has a weird obsession with putting black men in drag – though that’s some of it. Whereas most actors take to stuffing their bras when in need of a paycheck or relevency (like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire) Perry seems to love it. I get the feeling he spends Sundays at his estate in the Madea drag, shouting sassy non-sequitors to the help.
There’s a whole minstrel aspect of it too as Madea embodies every negative black woman stereotype. She’s obese, sassy, violent and full of homespun wisdom.
He got in a fight with Spike Lee
During a press conference before the release of the 2011 edition of Perry’s adventures in drag, Perry told Spike Lee to “go straight to hell” after Spike described his movies as “coonery” and “bufoonery”.
Whatever’s been going on between Spike and Perry seems to have gotten under Perry’s skin. You can count on Perry giving a wounded rant whenever Spike’s name is brought up in his presence.
He’s wildly defensive about his product
If you’re one of the godless souls who think Perry’s a hack and Madea one of the most grostesque black stereotypes of the last fifty years, according to Perry, you simply “just don’t get it”.
He doesn’t understand why people are picking on him – but he suspects it’s because black people can’t get out of their own way. After all, he’s “never seen Italian people complaining about the Sorpranos…It’s always black people, and this is something [he] can’t undo.”
He apparently doesn’t remember the American Italian Defense Association suing HBO for violating the Bill of Rights.
Bottom line, I’ve got to respect his hustle. He’s positioned himself as a champion for black women while getting rich stereotyping them. Him dressing up as a diabetic, gun-toting black woman to riotuous applause from those same women would be like Short Round living as a symbol of Chinese empowerment.
There’s going to come a point where the world will grow tired of seeing yet another strong black woman overcome the evil men in their lives. Then he’s going to be forced to try to make a real movie with complex characters. I have my suspicions he’ll fail. So don’t be surprised if, in five years, he’s looked at as the black Uwe Boll.