The Mainstreaming of Madea

Tyler Perry's mammy gets less melodramatic but not less grotesque in 'Madea's Witness Protection'

This time, Madea is holding her own in a fully mainstream film that seems more akin to 2003's Bringing Down the House, starring Queen Latifah and Steve Martin, than to any previous Madea movie. Like Bringing, Witness Protection caters to the racial anxieties of audiences by presenting skittish white people who are loosened up by a black character who is also out of place in a new element—in other words, a "culture-clash comedy." In that sense, Witness is more of the same, but for sparing us his twisted fantasy of black sorrow, it might be the biggest favor Perry has done for black film in years.

Can I get a witness?
Can I get a witness?

Perry continues to do no kindness to the image that many black Americans prefer to retain of their grandmothers, one that Madea erodes with every "hallelujer." It's also nerve-wracking to realize that a rehashed mammy has been reappropriated for mainstream consumption . . . that is, until one realizes that Madea movies and the mammy image itself have been quietly mainstream all along. Don't be fooled: Madea is still as violent and angry as ever, but as a caricature, not as a sympathetic character. In this way, Madea's Witness Protection breaks no new real ground, but at the very least, it will leave black miserablism by the wayside.

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