Ghost (again) in Tyler Perry's rise

diarymadAllow me to add my two cents to the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc's post about the Tyler Perry culture wars, since I've had a post lingering in my guilt file on this subject for several weeks. This topic seems to surface every time, or almost every time, that Perry releases a movie. It seems that some mass-media types cannot seem to figure out how this man keeps connecting at the box office, while others are sure they have it figured out and they are ticked off about it.

How ticked off? Check out the anger in a recent Courtland Milloy column at the Washington Post, which ran with the headline, "What's So Funny About Madea? Nothing."

At the AMC Magic Johnson Capital Centre 12 in Landover, where Madea is being shown 14 times a day, I was hoping to get a clue as to why this man in drag is so popular. And with the movie featuring guest appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Dr. Phil, Judge Mathis and Al Sharpton, perhaps I'd even get in a laugh or two. Boy, was I wrong -- on both counts.

All around me you could almost hear the funny bones cracking -- deep guttural laughter coming not only from kids in the audience but from my peers in the AARP set, as well. And there I sat, silently ranting: There is nothing funny about this black man in pantyhose. ... I don't want to hear diddly about Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire or Milton Berle in high heels. Having a black man play super mammy is not the same thing. Perhaps it would be were it not for America's perverse, systemic and centuries-long efforts to humiliate African men and women and turn them into slaves.

You get the idea. There is a lot of anger there and it's coming from somewhere deep down in the heart and soul of the writer. The question, for me, is whether the clash has something to do with Perry's strong emphasis on faith, black men, black women and black families.

Faith doesn't really come up in Milloy's piece. It's one of the ghosts in the room, though.

Then again, mainstream reporters can go to the other extreme and write about Perry as a mere business phenomenon and, again, manage to leave the faith component out of the picture. The Los Angeles Times recently offered this approach, in a "Big Picture" feature that focuses on how Perry is evolving from actor-writer-producer-director in a true mogul-gatekeeper-powerhouse.

The heart of the story, again, is why Perry connects in the black heartland, but flies under the Hollywood radar. Here we go:

What's especially fascinating about Perry is that even after his consistent run of hits -- all made for under $10 million -- he is still underestimated by the scrum of box-office pundits who predict the industry's opening weekend business. The best known prognosticators, including Box Office Guru and Box Office Mojo, all pegged the film at around $25 million, a figure it easily surpassed. Why was everyone so wrong about the opening?

Good question.

A big part of the issue is that Perry still largely operates in a parallel universe. Even after America has elected a black president, it remains a country that is, especially when it comes to TV and movies, culturally divided. "Madea's" audience was still overwhelmingly African American and Latino, with whites making up only about 5%. Lionsgate execs suspect that "Madea" opened bigger than Perry's other films because it reached a younger black audience. In the past, Perry has appealed largely to older women.

What is it that Perry gets that these mainstream writers keep missing?

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