Madea Is Forever — And There’s Nothing We Can Do About It

Photo: Lionsgate/Tyler Perry Company/Kobal/Shutterstock.
After 20 years of donning her signature silvery wig and bodysuit for various films and plays, filmmaker Tyler Perry put the famous character Madea “Madea" Earlene Simmons to bed with the dramedy A Madea Family Funeral, declaring that it was officially time to “kill that old b*tch.” The decision, for many, was met with mixed reviews, but as it turned out, it was reversible. In the new Netflix film A Madea Homecoming, everyone’s cussing, gun-toting great-grandmother is back in action — and it looks like she’s here to stay. Yay?
Audiences first connected with Madea during Perry’s early run on the urban theater circuit in a 1999 play called I Can Do Bad All By Myself (not to be confused with the other Perry project of the same name, which starred Taraji P. Henson and Mary J. Blige) The formidable character, reportedly inspired by the producer’s own mother and aunt, was an instant hit; Perry’s fans were immediately taken by Madea’s larger-than-life presence. Though she’s a great-grandmother of a certain age — no one, even her own family, has the faintest idea how old the matriarch actually is — Madea can get down with the best of them, smoking, drinking, cussing, and fighting whenever she pleases. Her hobbies include tough love, smoking weed, misquoting the Bible, and perpetually arguing with her brother Joe (also played by Perry). And while she’s known for being…difficult, Madea can be insightful as well, often providing guidance for her family in their time of need. Is the guidance always sound? Usually not. Does the advice typically work? Also no. But it’s the thought that counts, right?
A Madea Homecoming marks the return of the fabled character after Perry’s announcement of her retirement in 2019. The Netflix original gathers many of the usual suspects of the Tyler Perry Cinematic Universe (TPCU) under one roof for a weekend as they celebrate the college graduation of the family’s pride and joy, Tim (Brandon Black). If you’re thinking, Oh, a family gathering, how delightful!, you clearly haven’t watched enough Tyler Perry films because there’s no such thing as a “peaceful” family reunion when Madea’s involved. True to formula, shenanigans ensue at almost every turn of the festivities, with each member of the family harboring major secrets that inevitably come out over the course of the weekend; someone’s in the closet, someone’s secretly engaged to her best friend’s ex-husband, someone else is dating her son’s best friend, and somehow, Perry even manages to squeeze in a few irreverent platitudes about defunding the police. It’s two whole hours of pure chaos, just the way Perry would have it.
Did anyone ask for another Madea movie? For a lot of folks, like myself, the answer might be a resounding “no,” but an executive at Netflix certainly did, hence the project being greenlit. Despite the Rotten Tomatoes rating for the new release sitting at a low but unsurprising 43% — it’s not great, y’all — A Madea Homecoming currently holds the third spot of Netflix’s American Top 10 list. We were grumbling about Perry reviving the crotchety grandmother after supposedly putting her to rest years ago, but people are watching these movies. A lot of people, it seems. And that select group of loyal viewers is exactly who Perry made the movie for. You know the saying: the girls that get it, get it.
"I speak to my folks. And I speak my language," Perry once said in a 2020 response to the scathing criticism about his storylines. "And how would I look, disassembling my machine because someone doesn’t like the stories I tell and how I tell them — when millions of people do?"
Madea’s been with him almost every step of the way, so consistent in Perry’s work that it wouldn't be a stretch by any means to call her the heart of the TPCU. One might argue that she’s really the center of it; there are only a number of projects under the Tyler Perry Studios banner that don’t involve Perry wearing that iconic floral dress. The producer keeps promising that we won't see him suiting up to play the cantankerous matriarch again after this, but that doesn’t mean that Madea is going back into retirement for good this time. We’re actually going to learn more about Madea’s origin story and uncover the unique circumstances that shaped her. Mabel, a developing series set to debut on SHOWTIME, will follow Madea as a spirited 20-something as she finds her way in 1970’s Atlanta. Described as an hour-long drama, the new show will likely move away from the gag jokes that made the character so famous. There’s no word on who will star in the SHOWTIME series just yet, but the actress will definitely have some big shoes to fill. (Have you seen Madea’s feet?)

No matter what side you’re on regarding the 'Is Tyler Perry seeing heaven?' debate, there’s no denying that his body of work epitomizes the notion of FUBU.

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Having watched my fair share of Madea films, I can admit to succumbing to fits of laughter from the character’s incessant antics. Perry as Madea can be funny; in one such hilarious instance that plays out in A Madea Homecoming, Madea and Joe take genuine offense to an Irish guest’s pronunciation of the word “knickers," and a hilarious repartee follows. Unfortunately, a few one-liners from Madea does not a good script make. Perry’s films are strange in the sense that they do a lot without doing much at all. Each plot builds upon certain themes (often including family, addiction, adultery, forgiveness, and healing), but the storylines are clunky without actually being effective because they’re overburdened by drama. The lessons that Perry wants to convey, too often riddled in misogynoir, are directed almost exclusively to the Black women who watch his films. Woven into every storyline is a sanctimonious lesson meant to teach Black women that they can become happier, more enlightened versions of themselves through the love of a good Christian man. It's troubling, of course, but it’s also kind of funny — Perry has made millions playing a Black woman for decades now, yet he still has no idea how to properly tell our stories.
Generational trauma, struggle love, comically bad wigs, and all, folks still do really love Perry’s projects. As outlandish as they might be, there’s a subset of our community that truly sees themselves in his plays, TV shows, and films; they too grew up in the south and might have (or even be) a churlish grandmother who loves Jesus but keeps the strap on her just in case. The appeal of Madea and the rest of the Perryverse also lies in its focus on the Black community and on Black stories. From his growing repertoire of actors to the staff working over at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Perry might very well be the number one employer of Black professionals in the television and film industry. The majority of his titles are made for Black people, by Black people, and he’s been focused on sharing Black stories since the earliest days of his career in entertainment, going all the way back to his days of writing plays that his community could enjoy with shame or pretense. No matter what side you’re on regarding the “Is Tyler Perry seeing heaven?” debate, there’s no denying that his body of work epitomizes the notion of FUBU.
With A Madea Homecoming dominating Netflix and a brand new Madea project in the works, it’s clear that Perry knows exactly what his specific audience wants: more Madea. You don’t have to love it or even like it — Perry himself is tired of wearing that lacefront and bodysuit — but there’s no escaping her. Madea is forever. 

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