Madea Goes to Jail is just one out of a series of films produced and directed by Tyler Perry. These films have many things in common. For one, they are immensely popular largely because they draw on a pool of familiar black female characters; the title character being Madea herself. They also owe popularity to a host of other factors – including the shortage of quality black movies.
Madea is the quintessential black matriarch. She is large, she is loud and her language is foul. While she does have a good heart, her rants play straight into the stereotype of the mammy/angry black woman.
Madea’s character first of all portrays the stereotype of black families being headed by women. She is the dominant de facto leader in the family. The movie clearly demonstrates the double-edged sword that black women are dealt in the movies. On one hand there is Madea who is a super aggressive – and abrasive as well as well as simply irreverent. On the other hand we have Candace, a young woman who plays the ultimate victim a woman who is trapped in a life of prostitution after going through difficult situations and who is a victim of sexual violence. Black women are routinely portrayed in the media as the ultimate victims.
The intention of the film was to depict black females who are strong and humorous. Madea is a favorite character of many film goers for a reason. She is brutally honest and rebellious yet at the same time charming. Mammy is a black, matronly mother figure who is strong, opinionated and wise. This stereotype has been there for decades since early Hollywood years. Mammy lives on through characters such as Madea and Big Momma.
Stereotypes are attractive, familiar and more importantly are seen as accurate by many viewers simply because – at least for some portion of the population group – they do align with reality. More importantly, stereotypes enable a producer to create a character that audiences immediately relate to – purely because they have already seen that character thousands of times albeit probably with a different face and name. This is perhaps the main reason why film producers draw on black stereotypes so much. Madea is just a reincarnation of the Big Momma/ Mammy character that audiences are already familiar with. This makes it that much easier to create a character that audiences ‘know.’
The problem with stereotypes is that they are self perpetuating. As more black women are cast in such roles, it becomes easier and easier for producers to typecast all black women into those roles and box them out of other roles. The more black women are typecast into these roles the more audiences assume that those characters are representative of black women and families.
This movie is very significant because it is immensely popular and is one of the relatively few black movies produced. Blacks do not get to appear in mainstream movies as much and that partially explains its success. Relatively few American movies have an almost all black cast.
Stereotypes are worth looking at because they do have a real effect on the people that are labeled through them. Black women for example, routinely find it hard to speak up for themselves in difficult situations because they don’t want to be dismissed as just another ‘angry black woman.’ This stereotype is effective in silencing African American women through using a stereotype threat. This is the same thing that happens to young blonde women who are not taken seriously because the term ‘blonde’ carries with it the stereotypical connotation of a woman who is not very intelligent.
Stereotypes can be used to justify prejudice against a particular group of people – in this case black women or black people in general by viewing them as victims and/or angry black woman type. They can also prevent people of that group from expressing themselves.
Madea Goes to Jail: Dir. Tyler Perry. Perf. Tyler Perry and Cassi Davis. Writer. Tyler Perry 2009. Lionsgate. DVD.