Journalist Chris Wallace put Tyler Perry in a rather uncomfortable position on CNN/HBO Max’s “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” when he pointed out that Perry’s Madea character has been accused of fostering negative stereotypes of Black men and women. Wallace even mentioned how fellow filmmaker Spike Lee in 2009 called Madea “coonery buffoonery” — a term Urban dictionary defines as “antics and behavior displayed by certain underclass individuals in the Black culture, the end result being the embarrassment of the rest of the upstanding Black community.”
Perry, the creator and performer behind the tough, elderly woman in roughly a dozen films since 2005, acknowledged that he has faced widespread criticism for his most popular creation. ”Emasculating Black men, I’ve heard it all. Yeah,” he told Wallace in an interview that started streaming Saturday.
“There’s a certain part of our society, especially Black people in the culture, that they look down on certain things within the culture,” he said, defending his work and explaining who and what inspired the character.
“For me, I love the movies that I’ve done because they are the people that I grew up with that I represent and they, like, my mother would take me in the projects with her on the weekends, she played cards with these women,” he said. ”Most of them have 12th-grade education, but their stories and how much they loved each other and how when they get sad about something and others would come in and make a joke. I’m 5 years old on the floor with my Matchbox cards.”
“I was in a masterclass for my life, so when someone says this is this your harkening back to a point of our life that we don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want the world to see, you’re dismissing the stories of millions and millions of Black people. And that’s why I think it’s been so successful because it resonates with a lot of us who know these women in these experiences and Uncle Joe and so on and so forth.”
Perry’s first Madea movie came in 2005 with “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” based on the 2001 play of the same name that he wrote, directed and starred in. He raised $5 million to finance the film, which was the only Madea film he didn’t also direct and which went on to gross more than $50 million domestically. Adjusted for inflation, as of May 2019, the Madea films have grossed over $614 million domestically, according to Forbes.
Back in a 2009 appearance on “60 Minutes,” when he was first told of Lee’s criticism, Perry said, “I would love to read that [criticism] to my fan base. … That pisses me off. It is so insulting. It’s attitudes like that that make Hollywood think that these people do not exist, and that is why there is no material speaking to them, speaking to us.” Two years later in an interview with Hip Hollywood, Perry suggested Lee “go to hell.”
“It is what it is,” Perry told Wallace. “But what is important to me is that I’m honoring the people that came up and taught and made me who I am.”
“Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” is currently streaming on HBO Max.